A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

As crisis in Va. government deepens, could Northam hang on?

With ‘blackface’ scandal spreading to the attorney general, and the lieutenant governor facing a sexual assault accusation, it’s unclear who could step in to replace the embattled governor.

Aaron P. Bernstein/AP/File
Virginia Governor Elect Ralph Northam (c.) celebrates with Lt. Governor Elect Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring at his election night rally on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Nov. 7, 2017.

What is going on in Virginia? The state’s government has been in crisis ever since that now-infamous picture surfaced from Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page – showing one man in blackface and another in KKK garb. At first, Governor Northam apologized for the photo. Then, amid an avalanche of calls to resign, he changed course and said it wasn’t actually him.

Northam is now refusing to step down. Complicating matters for state Democrats, Lt Gov. Justin Fairfax, who had been poised to succeed Northam, has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman 15 years ago. (He denies the charge, saying the encounter was consensual.)  

And today, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who’s third in line for the governorship, admitted that he once dressed in blackface in college in the 1980s. 

Initially, it seemed doubtful that Northam could survive the overwhelming number of calls for his resignation. As The Washington Post’s Matt Viser put it, the push reflected the Democratic Party’s new “zero-tolerance policy” on transgressions involving race or sex – since “purity” on those issues is seen as necessary to draw a sharp contrast with President Trump.

But without a clear replacement for Democrats to unite behind – and as the initial surge of outrage inevitably subsides somewhat – Northam’s chances of hanging on may be ticking up.

While the history of blackface is undoubtedly “toxic,” Northam’s expressions of remorse – and, more importantly, his public record on race over the past 35 years – should entitle him to a second chance, writes The Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn. “If a month from now it still looks as if he can’t be an effective governor or if the bill of particulars against him has grown, then yes, he should quit,” he argues. “But not yet.”

Monitor reporter Jessica Mendoza has gone to Richmond to see what the story looks like from there. Be sure to look for her piece later in the week.

As always, let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to As crisis in Va. government deepens, could Northam hang on?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today