Virginia Legislature Tries To Carry On With Business Amid Scandals In Top Offices
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In Richmond, the capital of Virginia, the only three statewide elected officials are all caught in scandals. Governor Ralph Northam has admitted to wearing blackface. So, too, has Attorney General Mark Herring. And Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is denying allegations of sexual assault. All three are Democrats. The next in line is a Republican.
In a moment, we will hear from Virginians trying to make sense of all this. First let's bring in Virginia Public Radio's Michael Pope, who is in Richmond. Hey, Michael.
MICHAEL POPE, BYLINE: Hey there.
KELLY: So tonight we got a statement from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. A lot of people have been waiting for this, and this statement details what the caucus thinks should happen to these three politicians. What do they say?
POPE: Well, for Northam, they want him gone. For a Herring and Fairfax, they're taking a wait-and-see approach. For Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, they say they expect justice to be meted out, and they will continue to monitor the situation. They also say they want a - an investigation by the appropriate agencies. For Attorney General Mark Herring, they want to take a wait-and-see approach. They say they appreciate his candor, but they are awaiting further action on his part to reassure everybody of his fitness for leadership.
KELLY: Did they say why they're making a distinction between Northam and Herring given that both of these men have admitted to wearing blackface?
POPE: Well, for Northam, they said they already had the facts before them, and they acted swiftly because they knew what the score was. For Herring, they sort of left it open whether or not they would eventually call for his resignation. Although it is worth noting that if he were to resign, the Republican-led General Assembly would get to appoint someone, and it would likely be a Republican.
KELLY: So maybe exercising a little bit of caution there as Democrats. What are other lawmakers saying at this point?
POPE: At this point, we're still awaiting, actually, word from other lawmakers who were waiting for the Legislative Black Caucus to make the initial statement. So now that's going to open up the floodgates for all the other elected officials in every organization to weigh in.
KELLY: And meanwhile, yet another twist that unfolded today - which is, another leader at the State House has come forward today in connection with blackface photos from yet another old yearbook.
POPE: Yes, that would be the first Republican caught up in this scandal, the Republican majority leader of the Senate, Tommy Norment. He was the managing editor of the yearbook at the Virginia Military Institute back in 1968, a book that includes photographs of students in blackface. It has several racial slurs, some of the most severe racial slurs. Norment responded to this by saying blackface is abhorrent. He emphatically condemned blackface. He says he was one of seven people working on that yearbook and that he cannot endorse or associate himself with every word and photo that appears in it.
Now, it's worth noting that Norment is not in blackface in the book. Now, Republican Speaker of the House Kirk Cox weighed in on the Norman news to say it was unfair to compare assisting in the production of a yearbook with all these other revelations.
KELLY: And Kirk Cox, we should this remind, is - looking further down the line of potential succession - would be third in line to be governor.
POPE: Yeah. If the lieutenant governor and the attorney general were to resign, we would be left with Republican Governor Kirk Cox.
KELLY: That's Michael Pope of Virginia Public Radio. It sounds like you're going to have another busy day tomorrow. Thanks so much for keeping us up to date.
POPE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.