Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is seeing his support among the state’s Democrats evaporate after a second woman spoke up Friday with allegations that she had also been a victim of sexual assault. Meredith Watson alleged Fairfax raped her in 2000 when they were both students at Duke University. She spoke only days after Vanessa Tyson, a political science professor, said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic national convention.
Fairfax has insisted he won’t resign and has demanded investigations into the claims of sexual assault. “I will clear my good name and I have nothing to hide. I have passed two full field background checks by the FBI and run for office in two highly contested elections with nothing like this being raised before,” Fairfax said in a statement. “It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me.”
Despite Fairfax’s claims of innocence, his support among Virginia Democrats is clearly eroding quickly and even some who had backed him at first are changing their minds. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus had initially stood by the 39-year-old lieutenant governor but said late Friday that “it is best for Lt. Governor Fairfax to step down from his position.” Although everyone accused “of such a grievous and harmful act must receive the due process prescribed by the Constitution, we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role,” the group said.
The Democratic members of the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate also issued a joint statement calling on Fairfax to resign. “Due to the serious nature of these allegations, we believe Lieutenant Governor Fairfax can no longer fulfill his duties to the Commonwealth,” the statement read. “He need to address this as a private citizen. The time has come for him to step down.” Fairfax was also removed from his post as chairman of the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association.
On Saturday, it was the turn of the Democratic Party of Virginia, which issued a statement calling on Fairfax to resign because he “no longer has our confidence or support.” Considering “the credible nature of the sexual assault claims against Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, it has become clear he can no longer fulfill the duties and responsibilities of the post,” Virginia Democratic Party Chair Susan Swecker said in a statement. “While the Lieutenant Governor deserves due process in this matter, it is in the best interest of the commonwealth that he goes through this process as a private citizen.”
The calls for Fairfax to resign may make sense considering how Democrats have been eager to show a tough line on sexual assault claims. But they also put the state’s Democrats in a difficult position if Fairfax continues to refuse to step down. After all, will they really push out the African-American leader at a time when two other top state officials—Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark R. Herring—are hanging on to their jobs after they admitted to wearing blackface? The New York Times expands on this difficult position:
The political turmoil for Democratic leaders this weekend is unfolding at the intersection of race and gender, and risks pitting the party’s most pivotal constituencies against one another. If Democrats do not oust Mr. Fairfax, at a time when the party has taken a zero-tolerance stand on sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, they could anger female voters. But the specter of Mr. Fairfax, 39, being pushed out while two older white men remain in office — despite blackface behavior that evoked some of the country’s most painful racist images — would deeply trouble many African-Americans.
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