Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Sunday he has no intentions of giving up his office despite the resignation calls made by many of his fellow Democrats after a racist photo from his medical school yearbook page surfaced less than two weeks ago.
In an interview set to air Monday on ”CBS This Morning,” Northam touted his training as a physician as providing him the skills necessary to lead a reconciliation process in his state.
“Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor,” he said. “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.”
The governor acknowledged that he considered resigning amid the widespread backlash spurred by the photo of a person wearing blackface and a person wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit standing side by side that appeared on his page in the 1984 yearbook for Eastern Virginia Medical School.
But he added that he believes he can “take Virginia to the next level“ by remaining in office.
“It is abundantly clear that we still have a lot of work to do (on issues of race) and I really think this week raised a level of awareness in the commonwealth and in this country that we haven’t seen certainly in my lifetime,“ he said, referring to the state’s history of slavery.
At a Feb. 1 press conference, Northam apologized for the photo and indicated he was one of the two individuals in it. But the next day he claimed he wasn’t in the photo, had never seen it before and didn’t know why it appeared on his yearbook page.
Scores of lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, including every major contender who has so far entered the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, for the governor to step down.
Northam’s comments in the CBS interview did not appear to sway two House Democrats from Virginia who have been among those urging him to step down from office.
“It does not my change my opinion that he needs to resign,“ Rep. Jennifer Wexton said Sunday on CBS “Face the Nation.“ She said Northam, who has almost three years left in his gubernatorial term, could not be an effective leader with the controversy hanging over him.
Rep. Don Beyer told CBS he’s also sticking by his call for Northam to resign, noting that nearly 40 percent of black Virginians said in a new Washington Post poll he should leave the governor’s mansion. Beyer called that a “damning“ number for a Democratic official in Virginia, despite 58 percent of the African-Americans surveyed saying Northam should stay in office.
Among all poll respondents, 47 percent said Northam should step down while the same percentage said he should remain as governor.
Allegations of sexual assault and rape lodged within the last week by two women against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who is next in line for the top job, have complicated the political calculus surrounding Northam’s fate.
In his comments to CBS, Northam stopped short of joining the growing chorus of leading Democrats saying that Fairfax needs to quit his post. But he said if the accusations “are determined to be true, I don’t think he’s going to have any other option but to resign.“
Northam also commented on the third example of racial insensitivity that buffeted a leading Virginia Democrat last week ― Attorney General Mark Herring ― and created a sense of political chaos in the state. Herring, next in line for the governorship after Fairfax, admitted to having once donned blackface in his youth after Northam’s yearbook page was revealed.
“I don’t know what the attorney general was thinking, what his perception was of race, of the use of blackface back then,“ Northam said. “But I can tell you that I am sure, just like me, he has grown. He has served Virginia well and he and I and (Fairfax), all three of us have fought for equality. And so again I regret that our attorney general is in this position.”
As to how Herring should respond to the furor he faces, Northam again hesitated to offer advice. “This is a decision that he’s going to need to make,” he said.