Head Of Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Continues To Call For Northam's Resignation
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
There's a lot of pressure on Democratic Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia to resign. A racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook page has sparked outrage from across the political spectrum. The picture shows two people - one in blackface and the other in a KKK hood and robe.
So let's look at how we got here. Coming into the weekend, Northam released an apologetic video admitting he was in the photo but he didn't say which of the two costumes was his.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
RALPH NORTHAM: That photo and the racist and offensive attitudes it represents does not reflect that person I am today.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But after apologizing, Northam said he was committed to finishing his term.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
NORTHAM: I accept responsibility for my past actions. And I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Then yesterday at a press conference, he changed his story.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
NORTHAM: I am not either of the people in that photo.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He did admit to something else.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
NORTHAM: That same year, I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume. My memory of that episode is so vivid that I truly do not believe I'm in the picture in my yearbook.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Among the lawmakers calling for Northam's resignation is a former ally, Lamont Bagby, who heads Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus. Delegate, welcome to the program.
LAMONT BAGBY: Good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your thoughts on the press conference and the explanations Governor Northam gave yesterday?
BAGBY: It wasn't what I expected. I don't think it was what any of my colleagues expected. And I'm not - I'm not just speaking of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. But I think I speak on behalf of both caucuses. And as well, you've seen in the comments that have come from individuals such as Senator Warner and Senator Kaine and Congressman Scott, Congressman McEachin and Abigail Spanberger, we're all disappointed that he missed the mark and didn't take advantage of the opportunity he had to resign gracefully.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you believe he is lying when he says it isn't him in that picture?
BAGBY: I'm torn. And I think a number of us are torn because we know who Ralph is. And we - we - we really genuinely love the guy. But it's so much. And even if you take out the picture that - before, that was revealed on Friday, even if you take that picture out of the equation, blackface is blackface. And so blackface next to a K - a Ku Klux Klan member is no different, in my opinion, than blackface as Michael - Michael Jackson.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you feel that he is disqualified now.
BAGBY: I regret to say that my friend Ralph Northam is disqualified to continue as governor.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your group had two separate meetings with Mr. Northam on Friday night. How did he strike you then?
BAGBY: He was humble. He received what my colleagues had to say to him. He was upfront, I believe, with us, and shared what he genuinely thought was his position and what had transpired. But it just wasn't enough for us to continue to support him as the - the head of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As you mentioned, many have called for his resignation. He is, so far, refusing to do that. Do you think that the Democrats in the state House will be forced to remove him from office?
BAGBY: I pray - I pray hard that it does not come to that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to ask you. You mentioned that you love the governor. I must ask why. What is it about him that - that you have found so lovable?
BAGBY: Well, he - he is a kind man. Everything I've seen, he's a kind man. Everything I've seen, he has been in the trenches with us, working on those things that we believe are most important. I gave a speech on the House floor just Friday, about 1 o'clock on Friday, two hours before this revelation. And that speech was to kick - to kick off black history month.
And what I said to my colleagues in the chamber was, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has no permanent friends and no permanent enemies - only permanent interests. And we have to remind ourselves that we're here to do one thing - not to make friends and certainly not to make enemies, but to do what's in the best interest of the most vulnerable individuals in the commonwealth. And we have to recommit ourselves to that work.
Right now, we're not doing that because we're distracted in the middle of session, where we have crossover on Tuesday (ph), where this is halfway point of the session. We're focused on this and not the work of the people of the commonwealth.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some Democrats say, look at Republican Steve King. He makes racist comments, and he's still in power. They also say this was 30 years ago or, why do the Democrats always have to fall on their swords? Why is it important for Governor Northam to resign?
BAGBY: I think we have always and we will continue to take political - to take the politics out of it and really think about what is in the best interest of the commonwealth. What - what are they seeing? And I think they're crying out for us to turn the corner and begin the healing process.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lamont Bagby, the head of Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus, thank you very much.
BAGBY: Thank you so much. Keep Virginia in your prayers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.