Northam, Fairfax should speak up and then step down

Published on Wednesday, 13 February 2019 16:55
Written by The Washington Post

Column

Neither Gov. Ralph Northam nor Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, each embroiled in scandal, gives any indication they are considering leaving office despite the broad consensus of Virginia’s political establishment that they do so. That doesn’t absolve the two Democrats of the obligation to address unanswered questions.

To the contrary, the need is all the more urgent given that they have shaken the trust of even many ardent supporters.

For Northam, who spun heads by denying he’d appeared in a racist yearbook photograph less than 24 hours after admitting it, the questions mainly concern his credibility.

How does he intend to repair it?

In the days after the damning photo surfaced, and following the disastrous news conference in which he made a hash of trying to explain it, the governor’s aides let it be known that he planned to hire a private investigator to get to the bottom of the image’s provenance.

Fine, but there has been no further word from Northam on that - although he did hire a District of Columbia crisis-management agency. Eastern Virginia Medical School, in whose 1984 yearbook the photo appeared, has undertaken its own inquiry, led by a former Virginia attorney general, Richard Cullen.

But it is primarily the governor’s responsibility to explain. If neither of the figures in the photo is the governor, how and why did it land on his medical school yearbook page? There has been no adequate account of that, nor of why Northam’s nickname as an undergraduate at Virginia Military Institute was “Coonman.” Who coined that appellation, and why?

The questions for Fairfax arise in part from his intemperate responses to accusations by two women that he sexually assaulted them.

He has referred to the accusations as a “smear” and called them a “coordinated” conspiracy against him, while dismissing as “demonstrably false” the allegation by the second accuser, Meredith Watson, that he raped her while both were undergraduates at Duke University in 2000.

Fairfax, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor, understands the meaning of words. So on what does he base his assertion that the accusations against him are “coordinated”?

And if the rape allegation is “demonstrably” untrue, as he said, in what way can he demonstrate it? And if he really believes the two women have invented spurious stories to “smear” him, why does he think they would do that?

Fairfax has also said his encounters with both Watson and another woman, Vanessa Tyson, now a college professor, were “consensual.” As Post columnist Karen Tumulty has asked, how did he draw that conclusion?

Northam and Fairfax may believe they can weather the storm by holding tight and uttering platitudes about reconciliation and respect. The reality is that there are factual issues to be addressed.

Both men had better address them, if they can. If they do not or cannot, their remaining terms in office, nearly three years, will be irreparably impaired.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Wednesday, 13 February 2019 16:55. Updated: Wednesday, 13 February 2019 16:58.