'Tumultuous': Virginia politics in chaos amid Northam, Fairfax and Herring scandals


It took Kirk Cox almost 30 years to rise from a freshman GOP member of the Virginia House of Delegates to the legislative body's speaker.

He could jump to the governorship in a matter of weeks as the state's top three officials, Democrats all, stagger under the weight of scandals.

First, Gov. Ralph Northam admitted wearing blackface in the 1980s. Then Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was accused of sexual assault, which he adamantly denies, stemming from a 2004 encounter. Finally, Attorney General Mark Herring admitted he, too, donned blackface in the 1980s.

"The last seven days have been tumultuous for our Commonwealth," Cox said in a statement late Wednesday. "The revelations against and admissions by the leaders of the executive branch are disturbing."

If all should fall, Cox would be next in line for the state's top post. Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, says that, if Northam does exit, he would be the state's first governor since the Civil War not to complete his term.

But Sabato doesn't see all three Democrats walking away.

"Speculation that all 3 statewide VA Dem officeholders will resign is overwrought," Sabato said on Twitter. "One or more will survive. VA Dems won in an anti-Trump landslide in 2017. They're not going to turn government over to a pro-Trump GOP House Speaker."

The tumult began Friday with revelations that Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook page contained a photo of one person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes. Northam quickly apologized - then the next day said he wasn't in the photos. He did, however, admit donning blackface for a Michael Jackson dance party more than 30 years ago.

Northam's jumbled explanations prompted an avalanche of calls for his resignation from leading Democrats and Republicans.

Fairfax is facing accusations of sexual assault dating back to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. His accuser, Vanessa Tyson, is a political science professor at Scripps College in California.

"What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into sexual assault," she said in the statement issued by her lawyers Wednesday. She said he physically forced her to perform oral sex.

Fairfax said the accusations against him are false and that the entire encounter was consensual.

More: Why blackface just won't go away

Also on Wednesday, Herring admitted that he, too, once wore blackface in the 1980s. "This was a one-time occurrence, and I accept full responsibility for my conduct," he said in a statement.

The developments have put Virginia's Democratic leadership under an intense nationwide spotlight - and Cox in position to become governor if the others step aside or are pushed out.

More: Ralph Northam scandal: How did we get here

Marvin Kirkland "Kirk" Cox is a married father of four sons. He retired from teaching after 30 years in the classroom, serves as a deacon in his Baptist Church in Colonial Heights, 25 miles south of the state Capitol in Richmond.

Cox called for the governor to resign after his scandal broke. Late Wednesday, he called for a "full airing of the facts" surrounding the accusations against Fairfax.

And Cox appeared to call for Herring's resignation, saying that the attorney general "should adhere to the standard he has set for others or he loses credibility." Herring previously had called for Northam's resignation.

President Trump weighed in on the Virginia's political chaos on Thursday, tweeting: "Democrats at the top are killing the Great State of Virginia. If the three failing pols were Republicans, far stronger action would be taken. Virginia will come back HOME Republican) in 2020!"

More: In blackface controversy, Virginia remains haunted by its Confederate past

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Tumultuous': Virginia politics in chaos amid Northam, Fairfax and Herring scandals


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