The Slatest

Pressure Increases on Northam to Resign as Democrats Urge Virginia Governor to Step Down

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks while flanked by Virginia State Senator and candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Jennifer Wexton during a rally at the Wexton campaign headquarters on October 30, 2018 in Sterling, Virginia.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks while flanked by Virginia State Senator and candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Jennifer Wexton during a rally at the Wexton campaign headquarters on October 30, 2018 in Sterling, Virginia.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is seeing any remaining support he had within his own party quickly wither away as the fallout from a racist image is leading many to predict his resignation will come sooner rather than later. Northam apologized Friday, first with a statement and then a video, for the racist yearbook photo that shows a man in blackface and another in a KKK robe. But his promise to “heal the damage this conduct has caused” does not appear to be convincing anyone. Although Northam appeared determined to hold on to his office Friday night, by Saturday morning even allies who had expressed optimism that he could hang on seemed to acknowledge he had no choice but to resign, reports the Washington Post. “There’s no question the tide turned,” an ally of the governor told the paper.

Late Friday, both the Virginia House and Senate Democrats issued statements calling on Northam to step down. The Virginia House Democrats acknowledged that “we are having trouble reconciling our experience with Governor Northam with what we see in this photo.” But regardless, “we are no longer confident in the Governor’s representation of Virginians” and “we must call for Governor Northam’s resignation.” Senate Democrats also said “the Ralph Northam we know is … a dedicated public servant” but “it is with heavy hearts that we have respectfully asked him to step down.”

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who was governor when Northam was lieutenant governor, also called on him to step down. “This has been a heartbreaking day. Ralph Northam is my friend and he served well as my Lt. Governor and as Governor. His actions on display in this photo were racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age and any time,” McAuliffe tweeted. “It’s time for Ralph to step down, and for the Commonwealth to move forward.”

In a sign of just how quickly Northam lost support Friday evening, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus at first declined to ask for his resignation. “We are still processing what we have seen … but unequivocally say that what has been revealed is disgusting, reprehensible, and offensive,” the caucus said at first. But later, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus left no room for doubt and strongly called for Northam’s resignation. “We just finished meeting with the governor. We fully appreciate all that he has contributed to our Commonwealth. But given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as Governor. It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing,” the caucus said in a statement.

Beyond Virginia, the NAACP and a number of 2020 presidential contenders as well as members of Congress called on Northam to step down. “Black face in any manner is always racist and never okay,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson tweeted. “No matter the party affiliation, we can not stand for such behavior, which is why the @NAACP is calling for the resignation of Virginia Governor @RalphNortham.”

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro was the first Democratic presidential hopeful to call on Northam to resign. “It doesn’t matter if he is a Republican or a Democrat. This behavior was racist and unconscionable,” Castro tweeted. “Governor Northam should resign.” In an interview with CNN, Castro made a point of emphasizing that the yearbook was published in 1984 and when Northam was in medical school. “He wasn’t, you know, in high school or younger than that. He was an adult,” Castro said. “1984 was not, you know, 70 years ago.”

Sen. Kamala Harris quickly followed suit. “Leaders are called to a higher standard, and the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government,” Harris wrote on Twitter. “The Governor of Virginia should step aside so the public can heal and move forward together.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren also called for Northam’s resignation. “Hatred and discrimination have no place in our country and must not be tolerated, especially from our leaders – Republican or Democrat,” Warren wrote. “Northam must resign.” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also said Northam must step down, writing that “racism cannot be excused in our government or anywhere else” as did Sen. Cory Booker. “We should expect more from our elected officials,” Booker wrote. “He should resign.”