Melinda Henneberger

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine says Northam must go, Herring could stay, Fairfax is a maybe

Sen. Tim Kaine on Northam, Herring and Fairfax

As scandals roil Virginia politics, Sen. Tim Kaine suggested in an interview Gov. Ralph Northam must resign; attorney general Mark Herring could survive; and more facts are needed about Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
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As scandals roil Virginia politics, Sen. Tim Kaine suggested in an interview Gov. Ralph Northam must resign; attorney general Mark Herring could survive; and more facts are needed about Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

In an interview Friday, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he’s been in constant contact with all of the players involved in the multiple scandals playing out in his home state. They include his fellow Democrats, Gov. Ralph Northam, whose page in his medical school yearbook shows a white kid in blackface standing next to someone in a KKK robe and hood; Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman at the Democratic National Convention in 2004; and Attorney General Mark Herring, who said that in college, he darkened his skin to dress up as the African-American rapper Kurtis Blow on Halloween.

Kaine, who was in Kansas City to campaign for Steve Miller, a longtime friend who is running for mayor, suggested that Herring could survive the scandal, Fairfax might or might not, and Northam had to go.

Editorial board member Melinda Henneberger: “As I’ve heard you talk about this issue today, you’ve said we do have to account for people’s ability to grow and change and learn over the years. Tell me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you personally might be leaning toward maybe [deciding that all] these officials do not have to step aside.”

Tim Kaine: “We have all called — and when I say we, you really had to listen to people, and we’ve spent a lot of time in the last week listening to African-American leaders, to women leaders and to legislators, and we all reached our conclusion pretty quickly. The nine of us in the federal delegation of Democrats — men, women, white, black, brand-new members of Congress [and those who have] been there for 30 years, we’re quite a mixed bunch — we all reached a conclusion pretty quickly that we all asked Gov. Northam to resign.

Not that he’s a bad person — he’s a person that’s done some wonderful things in his life — but we feel like he’d lost the confidence of people to govern.

We’ve reached somewhat of a different conclusion about our attorney general because his dialogue with the African-American leaders of our state — they’re not happy, and they’ve told him what they think — but they’ve also said we see in you, we want to continue to dialogue and we think there’s a path forward on this.”

Editorial board member Toriano Porter: “So he was more contrite than the governor, and the governor kind of doubled down on his stance?”

Kaine: “I think that was part of it, but I also think being inappropriate and offense [in] dressing up as an African-American person that you admire, it’s still inappropriate and offensive to dress up like Michael Jackson or to dress up like a rapper you admire, but it’s fundamentally different than being in a Klan thing.

I think there was an understanding there’s gradations of offensive ... and then with respect to our lieutenant governor, frankly the issues are just so brand-new to us and so surprising. I think there are going to be more facts that come out that will give it shape and help us understand better what’s going on.”

Melinda Henneberger is a columnist and member of The Star’s editorial board. She has covered crime, local and state government, hospitals, social services, prisons and national politics and worked in Texas, New York and Washington, D.C. For 10 years, she was a reporter for The New York Times based in New York, Washington and Rome. In 2018, she received the Scripps Howard’s Walker Stone Award for opinion writing.


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