Opinion | Virginia needs to get it together


Steve Earley | TNS

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax talks on Feb. 2 about the allegations of sexual assault and the possibility of him becoming the next governor of Virginia.

By Devi Ruia, For The Pitt News

Now is not exactly a great time to be a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia — or as Twitter is calling it, “the new Florida.” Unfortunately, I am one of several students here at Pitt who has to call Virginia my home state, and as a result, I have been rather unhappy with the latest news surrounding its state leaders.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Ralph Northam, D-Va., was doused in scandal when a photograph surfaced from his medical school yearbook page depicting someone in Klu Klux Klan robes standing next to another person wearing blackface. After this surfaced, Attorney General Mark Herring admitted that he had also donned blackface in college. While all of this was happening, sexual assault allegations about Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax came to light.

All three of these men have done terrible things that should disqualify them from continuing to serve as state officials. These men are also part of the Democratic Party, which lauds itself as one that champions minorities and women. For them to keep their positions would not only be an insult to the people of Virginia, but a terrible stain on the entire Democratic Party. All of these men should either resign or be removed from office.

When the photograph from Northam’s yearbook page was first released, he admitted to being in the photograph and apologized to the people of Virginia, which prompted a majority of other Democratic officials to call for his resignation. But Northam later claimed that he did not think he was in the photograph and instead admitted that he had donned blackface at a different time, as a part of a Michael Jackson costume in college. Regardless of which is true, it’s inexcusable, as both were acts perpetuating racism.

Prior to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against Fairfax came to light, many Democratic officials called for Northam to resign and for Fairfax to replace him. The situation quickly got more complex when on Feb. 4, accusations against Fairfax were released by the same conservative news site, Big League Politics, that first published the photo of Northam.

The first woman who accused Fairfax, Dr. Vanessa Tyson, stated that he sexually assaulted her in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention. Fairfax didn’t deny that a sexual encounter occurred between him and Dr. Tyson, but he claims the encounter was completely consensual.

Tyson told more than five individuals over the past two years about being assaulted by Fairfax, prior to the current political unrest in Virginia, and she has worked as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault for years.

One credible allegation should have been enough for officials to call for his resignation. Instead, Democrats seemed hesitant to do so, and those who spoke about it simply called for an investigation to take place.

Two days after Dr. Tyson’s allegations came to light a second woman, Meredith Watson, came forward and accused Fairfax of sexual assault. Watson said that Fairfax raped her in 2000  when they were both attending Duke, and she described the assault as “premeditated and aggressive.” She called for him to resign from his position as lieutenant governor, and her account has been corroborated by two witnesses who attended Duke with her.

One witness, Kaneedreck Adams, said Watson came to her in 2000, around the time of the alleged assault, saying Fairfax raped her. Two years ago, Milagros Joye Brown, a classmate of both Fairfax and Watson, emailed Watson inviting her to a fundraising event for Fairfax.

“Molly, Justin raped me in college and I don’t want to hear anything about him,” Watson said in response to Brown’s email. “Please, please, please remove me from any future emails about him please.”

Fairfax responded with a statement denying Watson’s allegations, saying that their encounter was consensual and that he would not resign. After the second allegation against him came to light, top Democrats started calling for Fairfax’s resignation.

The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D-Va., tweeted on Friday. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia as Lieutenant Governor. I call for his immediate resignation.”

Several other Democrats have now followed suit in calling for Fairfax’s resignation, although he seems determined to hold onto his position.

Despite the fact that Fairfax denies both of these allegations, they are credible and corroborated by other sources. This is a job, and Fairfax is very credibly accused of committing heinous acts that make him unfit to hold that job any longer.

Fairfax is holding onto his position because he thinks that he can get away with what he has done, and it is quite possible that Fairfax could keep his position. Though some Democrats in Virginia have discussed impeaching him, and both Dr. Tyson and Watson said they would testify at an impeachment hearing, other Democrats are unsure if that is the right way to go — especially considering who is third in line if Fairfax resigns after Northam.

If he did decide to resign, the third in line to lead Virginia is Herring, who recently revealed that he had also worn blackface as part of a costume in college. Virginia simply can’t seem to escape its racist leadership.

The Democratic Party has established itself as the hard line against racism and sexual misconduct, but the top three statewide officials in Virginia have all been accused of committing heinous acts. If Democrats do not condemn those in their party who go against party values, they lose the trust and support of the voters.

Northam, Fairfax and Herring must either resign or be impeached, or the party risks discrediting itself. Virginia has been shifting the past several years from red, to purple and finally to blue. If these officials do not resign, Democrats could lose the important headway they have made in turning Virginia blue.