Virginia's Top-3 Government Leaders Are Involved In Scandals

16 hours ago
Originally published on February 11, 2019 6:01 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How can Virginia Governor Ralph Northam regain public support? He refused to resign over an old racist photo. And over the weekend, he began giving interviews trying to explain a path forward. In one, he spoke with Gayle King of CBS.

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RALPH NORTHAM: Virginia needs someone that can heal. There's no better person to do that than a doctor. Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that's why I'm not going anywhere.

INSKEEP: He says he previously understood the meaning of white privilege but in the past week has better grasped just how extensive it is. Now if Northam did resign, the lieutenant governor would take over. So who would that be by then? Because Justin Fairfax is under pressure, although he insists he will not resign either. Whitney Evans from our member station WCVE in Richmond is covering that part of the story. Hi, Whitney.

WHITNEY EVANS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: How have the sexual assault allegations - sexual misconduct allegations against Fairfax developed over the last couple of days?

EVANS: Well, there have now been two allegations against the lieutenant governor. And people are still calling on both Governor Ralph Northam and Fairfax to resign over these separate scandals. That has not changed. What may be changing is whether a state lawmaker still intends to bring articles of impeachment against Fairfax. So Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope said on Twitter just this morning that he had circulated a draft of the impeachment action with his colleagues and received an enormous amount of feedback. So he now says he needs more time for conversations with those colleagues before he files anything.

INSKEEP: Oh, he had said if Fairfax does not resign by Monday - today - he was going to file articles of impeachment. He felt it was a moral imperative. Now that he's heard from his lawmakers - fellow lawmakers, he's going to think about it a little while. Might he be hearing that it is not practical or legal to try for an impeachment over this kind of accusation?

EVANS: That may very well be the case. I mean, he could've looked more closely at the constitution just over the past two days. There's some real hesitancy among lawmakers in both parties to move forward with articles of impeachment. House Speaker Kirk Cox has, throughout this process, stopped short of calling for anyone to be forced out. He's only called for resignations thus far.

INSKEEP: Although - let's be real here. I mean, the accusations are very serious. These would be crimes. What would make them fall short of impeachment?

EVANS: Well, I spent some time this weekend with this - with a man named Dick Howard. He's a constitutional scholar, and he was part of the group that wrote Virginia's Constitution or rewrote it in 1971. He has this to say about it.

DICK HOWARD: The constitution actually says that you have impeachment if there has been malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty or other high crime or misdemeanor.

INSKEEP: Oh, he says malfeasance in office.

EVANS: He says malfeasance in office. But I think what people might be getting stuck on is that or other high crime or misdemeanor section there. Delegate Hope had said previously that, you know, sexual assault is clearly a high crime. But Howard's interpretation of the constitution is that the high crime or misdemeanor piece has to have taken place while the official was in office. So to qualify for impeachment, the crime has to be somehow tied to the elected official's position of power. And the legislature could interpret that differently, and it sounds like they may be.

INSKEEP: Isn't the state Senate going to have to have Justin Fairfax as its leader beginning today, continuing today, whether they want it or not?

EVANS: That's right. Yeah, and his two primary powers are to reside over the Senate and to take the governor's place if something happens in that office. And as of now, I mean, it seems like it's going to be business as usual. Fairfax is expected to gavel in, and that's all we know so far. The House is supposed to be in session at noon.

INSKEEP: Whitney Evans of WCVE. Thanks.

EVANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.