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Post-Racist Photo: Va. Governor's Time In Office Will Be Ineffective, Bourne Says


Here is the proposition that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam offered on Saturday. He said he will not resign. He said a racist photo in his old medical school yearbook does not show him, even though he had previously apologized. And he said if he cannot govern, he will reassess his decision. Those urging a reassessment include his predecessor and close ally, former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, who spoke Sunday with NPR's Michel Martin.


TERRY MCAULIFFE: This is now about Virginia, who we are as Virginians and most importantly how do we move forward. And he's just put himself in a position that he no longer can have that moral authority, nor can he lead the legislature and - to move our state forward.

INSKEEP: Let's hear now from a member of Virginia's legislative Black Caucus, Delegate Jeff Bourne, a member of that group who joins us on the phone. Delegate, good morning.

JEFF BOURNE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Do you believe the governor when he says that wasn't him in blackface or in a Klan robe, which were the two costumes of the two people in that old photo?

BOURNE: Well, I think, you know, even if you do believe the governor and assume that that's not him, what still continues to be appalling to me and many members of the legislature, all of which are the Black Caucus members, is the idea that he admitted in front of a national press audience in the nation that he had in fact used blackface and made himself up to look like Michael Jackson.

You know, so I think regardless of whether or not he's in the picture, clearly all that's transpired since Friday afternoon, Friday evening has eviscerated the trust and confidence that all Virginians have in Governor Northam. And as the Black Caucus, we continue to believe that the best step forward for Virginia is for him to resign.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember what he did say on Saturday. He said, I wasn't in this photo. I'm sure it's not me. I'm sure I would remember. And I'm paraphrasing here. The governor says in effect, I think I would remember because I do remember this other incident when I put shoe polish on his face - shoe polish on my face. Let's listen to that


RALPH NORTHAM: I - at the time, when I dressed up as Michael Jackson, it was a talent show. I didn't personally find it as unacceptable at that time. I have learned since.

INSKEEP: So I think you're saying, Delegate Bourne, you don't need an investigation of the yearbook. He's finished, so far as you're concerned.

BOURNE: Well, I think he's got to be. I think, you know, Ralph Northam the man can rehabilitate his reputation, repair the relationships. But his governorship is one that will be ineffective, and he's unable to govern because of everything that's transpired over Friday. He's - you know, he - when he's talking about his shoe polish on its face, he said it is hard to get off. Well, I think Congressman McEachin said over the weekend, it - how did he know it was going to be hard to get off if he hadn't done it before?

I think all the things that continue to be said from Governor Northam, the sort of - the insensitivity by attempting or looking like he was going to attempt to moonwalk and having - had the first lady tell him, no, that's not appropriate right now or at all. You know, it just continues to build. And folks have lost confidence in him. They've lost...

INSKEEP: Because...

BOURNE: ...Trust in him.

INSKEEP: ...A reporter asked him, would you like to moonwalk now? And he seemed to think about it for a moment.

BOURNE: Right. Correct.

INSKEEP: But let me just ask you. He says I'm not resigning, at least not right now. Legislature's coming back in session where you are in Richmond today. What do members of the Black Caucus do about that? Do you refuse to work with the governor when he shows up and wants something from you?

BOURNE: Yeah, I think we are hopeful and prayerful that Governor Northam will be the statesman that he expresses himself to be and do the right thing for Virginia. I think we will continue to have conversations, continue to meet and talk and discuss. And we'll assess our options and how we move forward. But at the end of the day, we have been - we have a deep sense of betrayal and have been betrayed by someone who we considered a friend. And it's just going to be difficult, if not impossible to move forward under any other circumstances other than him resigning.

INSKEEP: But if he insists - I mean, any number of officials have just insisted on bulling their way through any number of scandals, including the president of the United States. If he just insists and calls you up and is ready for work, are you going to say, no, there's nothing that can happen until you resign?

BOURNE: Well, I think we've got to assess that and decide collectively because, you know, those of us in the Black Caucus represent the majority of African-Americans in the state. I mean, and Virginia's the - has the ninth-largest African-American population in the country. And our people are going to be looking to us to lead. And we've been leading on this issue. And so we'll discuss collectively, and we'll move forward in the way that we believe best represents our constituents and African-Americans and all Virginians.

INSKEEP: OK. Jeff Bourne is a member of Virginia's House of Delegates and a member also of the state's legislative Black Caucus. Delegate Bourne, thanks so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

BOURNE: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us next. She's been covering this story all weekend. And Sarah, what do you hear there?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Well, Steve, I think what we heard from Delegate Bourne really fits with everything I've been hearing all weekend from Virginia Democrats and that we've heard from national Democrats as well. And I'm also talking about rank-and-file voters who've supported Northam in the past that I've been talking with, a real sense that Saturday's press conference didn't help things, added to the confusion and the pain and a sense of loss of trust in Governor Northam. I heard a lot of people say, like Delegate Bourne said, I believe, that it might be possible to forgive him, the man, but that he's not in a position to lead Virginia.

INSKEEP: Has the governor come out with any kind of plan or approach to try to recover trust since his press conference on Saturday?

MCCAMMON: He has not. All I really know about where he is at right now is that he spent yesterday - he went to church in the morning in southeast Virginia, which is where he's from. And I'm sure he had conversations with people there, no doubt and also last night met with some senior staff of color, I was told. Don't know what happened in those conversations, but he's certainly had some time to reflect since the press conference on Saturday.

INSKEEP: And maybe not the most important detail, but nevertheless an awkward detail - he would have pulled officials away from the Super Bowl to meet them last night. Isn't that right?

MCCAMMON: No doubt. That can't have been appreciated. But it's - you know, the priorities right now are heading into the legislative week here and figuring out what's going to happen next.

INSKEEP: OK. Sarah, thanks very much for the update. Really appreciate all your work this weekend.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.