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Political Crisis Continues In Virginia's State Government


It's now been a week and a half of cascading scandals in Virginia's state government, and the three Democratic politicians at the center of it are still in office despite calls to step down. The state's lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, faces two allegations of sexual assault. He denies the claims and wants an investigation. Virginia's governor and attorney general have both apologized for wearing blackface in the 1980s, and Governor Ralph Northam told CBS News this weekend that Virginia needs someone like him to get through this crisis.

NPR's Cheryl Corley is in Richmond, the state capital, and joins us now with the latest. And, Cheryl, what was the scene like today in the Capitol building?

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Well, Audie, it was both ordinary and surreal (laughter) at the same time because despite all this controversy over the past week and a half, it seemed like business as usual. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax presided over the state Senate. Lawmakers were focused on regular business, tax policy and resolution - resolutions. And there are even schoolkids who had come in to sit in on the session to see lawmakers in action. But there was also this undertone of the scandals and reporters of course asking questions about those despite the governor and the lieutenant governor vowing to stay in office.

CORNISH: At the same time, you have many people, especially Democrats, who had called on the governor and lieutenant governor to resign. Did we hear anything further from them?

CORLEY: Nobody has really officially reversed their position. So you did have people saying things, but they were kind of stepping back from what we can tell. The Virginia Democratic Party, the Legislative Black Caucus, a host of Republicans of you know - as you know, have all called on the governor and lieutenant governor to resign. But when he was asked about Governor Northam today, Lamont Bagby, the head of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said reporters really should just ask again after the legislative session. And he said ultimately it's a decision that the governor has to make.

CORNISH: Cheryl, there was a Washington Post poll that came out over the weekend that found Virginians were split over whether Governor Northam should resign. What have you actually heard from people you've been speaking with?

CORLEY: Well, the group of Northam supporters held a press conference today, and they included religious leaders and community activists and a former city council member, Chuck Richardson, who said that nobody was really overlooking this whole issue of blackface. But he said all these calls for resignation have been made in a really hyperpolitical environment. And he called them an overreaction. Here's what he had to say.


CHUCK RICHARDSON: Ralph Northam is a good man and a decent man. He has stood with us on issues both popular and controversial. Often when more calculating politicians would have stood on the sideline, he came forward.

CORLEY: He talked about, you know, Confederate Row and how the governor has talked about getting rid of those statues. And those were the types of things that they admired him for.

CORNISH: Last Friday night, we also heard one delegate say that he would introduce articles of impeachment against Lieutenant Governor Fairfax today. Did that come about?

CORLEY: No. Patrick Hope is the delegate. He was the one who originally planned to start off the whole process today. He said he still thinks the lieutenant governor should resign immediately, but he said he wanted to hear from the two women who accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting them. And he said he decided to hold off on this whole effort for impeachment after talking to his colleagues.

PATRICK HOPE: And right now in talking to my colleagues, I don't believe that the impeachment process provides that. But I'm committed to finding that process, that investigation, so these women will have their say.

CORLEY: And the lieutenant governor says he's - wants an investigation as well. So we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Cheryl Corley. Cheryl, thank you for your reporting.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.