by Edwin Santana
I want to preface everything I’m going to say with this; Republicans in the state legislature are unfit and unqualified to even comment on this issue. None of the arguments from conservatives on this issue are in good faith and everyone knows that Speaker Kirk Cox (R) has an agenda with his desire to hold hearings regarding Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and his accusers.
But I’m here to say, “so what”? I previously wrote that Dems can’t afford to have a double standard when it comes to believing women. Unfortunately, I had to follow that up with another article expressing my disappointment with elected Democrats failure to follow up on these accusations and prove that our party is different than those who elected Trump. Almost two months later, after seeing the latest statement from the Virginia House Democrats, I have given up hope that our party will do the right thing on this issue.
As someone who has run for office myself (as a Democrat), I can understand the conundrum that many Virginia Democrats are facing; what will the voters think? And as Ralph Northam has shown in his own separate scandal, you can run out the clock and survive a scandal if you hold on long enough. Recent polling shows that: Northam currently has a 40% approval rating among Virginians, even lower than Donald Trump’s 44%. What’s shocking is that a slim majority (52%) of Virginians – including 65% of Democrats – want Northam to stay in the job. Our Lieutenant Governor must be looking at numbers like those and guessing that if enough time passes by, he might survive this thing too. Political consultants are almost certainly telling both of them to wait it out and the voters will forget.
There are several issues with the above approach. First, Ralph Northam is accused of being at best ignorant and offensive and at worst extremely racist. Neither of which are crimes. The Lieutenant Governor, on the other hand, is being accused by two women of committing violent crimes (sexual assault, rape). Second, public polling has not always been a good indicator of the morally correct thing to do, and often these sentiments change over time. A few examples of this are Martin Luther King Jr’s favorability ratings in 1966 as opposed to 2011 (63% unfavorable in 1966 and 94% favorable in 2011); Americans’ views of biracial marriages in 1958 as opposed to 2013 (4% approve in 1958 and 87% approve in 2013); or more recently, views on same sex marriage, which in 1988 67% of Americans opposed versus 67% support in 2018.
The bottom line is that polling of large groups of Americans is not always a strong indicator of the morally right thing to do. Waiting for public support to catch up to lawmakers’ actions would have delayed countless morally right things, from the 13th amendment ending slavery to the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. Elected officials in a republic are supposed to act and lead in a way that is good for the country, not simply to serve as weather vanes that move with popular sentiment. Especially since we’ve seen that that sentiment can and will change over time.
Now to address the elephant in the room. Today there are only seven African American Lieutenant Governors in the country and no Governors. In the 2018 midterms, 90% of African Americans voted for the Democratic candidate. Now, Virginia Dems seem disinclined to remove the only black, and once very popular, statewide elected official. On top of that, the two other statewide officials, who are both white I might add, have navigated their own scandals and seem to be in the clear.
My issue with this line of thought is that it doesn’t take into account the fact that both of the Lieutenant Governor’s accusers are black women who are seemingly being shoved to the side to avoid electoral fallout. Justin Fairfax, on multiple occasions, has alluded to and compared his current situation to our country’s wicked history of lynching. He has questioned the nature of these particular accusations and bemoaned the lack of due process when accusations of sexual abuse are made. It’s difficult to counter that point, but what we must also not do is continue our history of silencing women, especially those of color, while burying their pain and suffering.
If we do what is right, and replace Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, there are no shortage of strong candidates (e.g. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Sen. Mamie Locke or Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, just to name a few options who are African-American women) to take his place. If Democrats are only concerned with political expediency, there are several paths they can take to minimize the political damage while ensuring they follow through on their moral obligation to believe and elevate women.
In short, Democrats in Virginia need to take a step back and consider the morally right thing to do and worry less about the immediate political consequences. Calling for the Lieutenant Governor’s resignation was a step in the right direction, but if that’s all elected Democrats are going to do, it’s an abdication of responsibility on their part. Regardless of whatever Speaker Cox’s agenda is in calling for hearings, Democrats must always lead with their values. This means taking the opportunity to try and find the truth and allowing these women to share their stories. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was given an opportunity to speak out about her alleged assault by Brett Kavanaugh — and showed incredible bravery in sharing her story with the American public. Today, here in Virginia, Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson should be given the opportunity to share their stories, too.