Virginia politics in chaos

By Veronica Rocha, Brian Ries, Meg Wagner and Amanda Wills, CNN

Updated 7:57 p.m. ET, February 7, 2019
6 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
12:22 p.m. ET, February 6, 2019

Virginia's attorney general says he wore blackface at 1980 college party

From CNN's Dan Merica

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring admitted Wednesday that he appeared in blackface at a 1980 party.

In a statement, Herring said that he wore blackface as a 19-year-old to dress up as a rapper at a party.

"In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song," he said. "It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes — and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others — we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup."

He added: "This was a onetime occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct. That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then."

The last controversy further plunges Richmond into chaos as Democrats in the state struggle to overcome a trio of scandals rocking their top statewide elected officials — Democratic Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

12:20 p.m. ET, February 6, 2019

What you need to know about the Virginia governor's yearbook

Last week, a racist photograph from Virginia governor Ralph Northam's 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook surfaced. It shows one person dressed in blackface and another in the KKK's signature white hood and robes.

What Northam is saying: Northam initially apologized for the photo and said he was in it — but in a news conference Saturday, he denied that he was in the image and said he would not resign as governor.

In the same news conference, the governor said he did once darken his face to resemble Michael Jackson during a dance contest in 1984.

There's a pattern of inappropriate yearbook photos: The president of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school said that other yearbooks had a number of photos that were "shockingly abhorrent" and inappropriate, including as recently as 2013.

12:10 p.m. ET, February 6, 2019

Virginia's attorney general met with Legislative Black Caucus

From CNN's Ryan Nobles

A source with knowledge confirms that Attorney General Mark Herring met with members of the Legislative Black Caucus to make them aware of the situation regarding him appearing in blackface.

12:13 p.m. ET, February 6, 2019

Virginia's lieutenant governor is facing assault allegations

From CNN's Dan Merica

Democratic Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax denied reports that he committed sexual assault.

He instead described an encounter that was "100% consensual."

The allegation was first published on the conservative website Big League Politics on Sunday night. Fairfax denied the allegation in a written statement overnight, then again to cameras Monday afternoon.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the woman who says she was assaulted by Fairfax approached the paper in 2017. The Washington Post said they did not report the allegations because "Fairfax and the woman told different versions of what happened in the hotel room with no one else present. The Washington Post could not find anyone who could corroborate either version."

The Post said it did not find "significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations," contrary to what Fairfax said in his written statement.

CNN has not been able to reach the woman. The Washington Post reported that she had not responded to their attempts to reach her for comment.

Why this matters: The allegations come amid days of controversy in Richmond around Gov. Ralph Northam's changing story regarding a racist photo in his medical school yearbook showing one person dressed in blackface and another in the Ku Klux Klan's signature white hood and robes. Northam has fought to stay in power despite a cascade of calls for his resignation from nearly every top Virginia Democrat and a series of high profile national elected officials.

12:08 p.m. ET, February 6, 2019

Virginia's governor is a Democrat. But a Republican could take over.

The Virginia state constitution lays out a line of succession for the governorship. Here's how it goes:

  • If the governor resigns, the lieutenant governor succeeds him.
  • After the lieutenant governor, the attorney general assumes responsibility as governor.
  • The constitution goes on to say that if the AG is ineligible, the speaker of the House of Delegates, if he is eligible, succeeds to the governor’s office. 

If Virginia's current governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general all resign, Republican Speaker Kirk Cox will become governor. This would flip control of the executive mansion, as Gov. Northam, LG Fairfax, and AG Herring are all Democrats.

Reminder: Control of the Virginia House of Delegates was determined by drawing the name of a tied delegate seat election in January 2018. As CNN's Eric Bradner noted at the time, “The quirk of democracy came as the Virginia Board of Elections used the procedure laid out in a 1705 law to settle the 11,608-to-11,608 tie between Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds for the seat.”

This gave Republicans control of the House.

12:29 p.m. ET, February 6, 2019

Virginia politics is consumed by chaos as top politicians face a trio of scandals

Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, center links arms with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lt. Gov.-elect Justin Fairfax, Attorney General-elect Mark Herring, and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) at an election night rally November 7, 2017, in Fairfax, Virginia.
Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, center links arms with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lt. Gov.-elect Justin Fairfax, Attorney General-elect Mark Herring, and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) at an election night rally November 7, 2017, in Fairfax, Virginia. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Virginia politics is in a swirling state of chaos that seems to get worse with each passing day.

The sitting Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, is defying pressure to resign for admitting -- and then later denying -- that he appeared in a racist photo in his medical school yearbook.

Justin Fairfax, the Democratic lieutenant governor who would succeed Northam should he step down, is vehemently denying an allegation of sexual assault and openly speculating that the story is being pushed by some of his colleagues.

And now Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat who as third in line would succeed Fairfax if he were forced to step down, is facing a scandal of his own: he wore “wigs and brown makeup” as part of a rapper costume at a party in 1980. Herring was 19.

"This was a onetime occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct," Herring explained in a statement that named the rapper he was emulating: Kurtis Blow.

"That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then," he said.

Acknowledging the reality, Herring questioned whether he would outlast the coming days, writing that "honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general."

He added: "But no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation."