Virginia governor vows not to resign over racist incident

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND, Va., Feb 11 (Reuters) - Virginia's embattled Democratic governor vowed in an interview on Monday not to resign over revelations that he wore blackface at a 1980s party, as a web of scandals enveloped three top party officials.

A Democratic state lawmaker, meanwhile, said on Twitter that he would not move immediately on his call over the weekend for impeachment proceedings against Virginia's lieutenant governor, who has been accused of sexually assaulting two women, charges he has denied.

The accusations of racist behavior or sexual assault - hot button issues in a party that has embraced diversity as one of its key messages - targeting the three men have rattled party leadership in a swing state that likely will play a pivotal role in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

In the unlikely event all three men were to step down, the governorship would pass to the Republican speaker of the state house, which would be a stunning reversal in a state where Democrats have been gaining power in the last few election cycles.

Party leaders in the state and across the nation have now called for Governor Ralph Northam and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax over their separate accusations. They have been more forgiving of Attorney General Mark Herring, largely because he came forward on his own to admit having performed in blackface at a 1980 college party, rather than waiting for someone else to accuse him.

RELATED: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, gestures as his wife, Pam, listens during a news conference in the Governors Mansion at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Northam is under fire for a racial photo that appeared in his college yearbook. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pauses during a news conference in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Resisting widespread calls for his resignation, Northam on Saturday vowed to remain in office after disavowing a racist photograph that appeared under his name in his 1984 medical school yearbook. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, accompanied by his wife, Pam, speaks during a news conference in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Northam is under fire for a racial photo that appeared in his college yearbook. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pauses during a news conference in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Northam is under fire for a racial photo that appeared in his college yearbook. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
ALEXANDRIA, VA - May 21: Democratic candidate for Governor of Virginia, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam takes part in a candidate forum put on by Americans for Responsible Solutions at the Hilton Alexandria Old Town on Sunday May 21, 2017 in Alexandria, VA. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns in support of Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, Democratic candidate for governor, at a rally with supporters in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, who is campaigning to be elected as the state's governor, and his wife Pam, cast their ballots at the East Ocean View Community Center in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S. November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Julia Rendleman
FAIRFAX, VA - APRIL 29: Tom Perriello, left, shakes hands with Ralph Northam at the start of the event. Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates, Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello held their first debate on Saturday, April 29, 2017 at Lanier Middle School in Fairfax, VA. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - MARCH 08: Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam visits Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to visit with airport workers on Wednesday March 08, 2017 in Arlington, VA. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 25: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, cheer on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Ralph Northam (R) is sworn in as Virginia's lieutenant governor by retired Judge Glen Tyler in Richmond, Virginia, January 11, 2014. The ceremony marks the first time in a quarter century that Democrats will hold all three of the state's top elective posts: governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. REUTERS/Mike Theiler (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
FALLS CHURCH, VA - OCTOBER 19: Hillary Rodham Clinton, center right in red, stands with the Democratic ticket as she endorses Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, far right, at a Women for Terry rallyon October, 19, 2013 in Falls Church, VA. Pictured from left, Sen Mark Herring, Sen. Ralph Northam, Clinton, and McAuliffe. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 25: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, take a selfie on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa., on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 2: Ralph Northam greets supporters in front of the venue as progressive and labor groups from across the Commonwealth host a forum for him and fellow candidate Tom Perriello to discuss Virginia's 2017 Governor's race on May, 02, 2017 in Arlington, VA. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Virginia Democratic governor-elect Terry McAuliffe (R) celebrates with lieutenant governor-elect Ralph Northam (L) at their election night victory rally in Tyson's Corner, Virginia November 5, 2013. McAuliffe defeated Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli in today's governor's election in Virginia. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
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Northam and Herring are white; Fairfax is black.

The Democratic state lawmaker said he might ask the state house to begin discussing impeaching Fairfax if he did not resign signaled on Monday he was in no rush to act.

"Yesterday I sent draft language to my colleagues on the first step of an impeachment action regarding the Lt. Governor," state Delegate Patrick Hope said on Twitter. "There has been an enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback which has led to additional conversations that need to take place before anything is filed."

In a series of tweets he said that he believed Fairfax's two accusers but wanted lawmakers to "build more consensus on a path forward."

Northam, meanwhile, insisted in an interview on CBS Monday, that he would not resign over the 1984 yearbook picture, which showed a person in blackface next to another wearing the robes and hood of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. Northam denied being in that picture but admitted to dressing in blackface for a social event that same year.

Blackface traces its history to 19th-century "minstrel" shows that mocked African-Americans and is seen as offensive by many Americans.

Northam said that Fairfax would have to step aside if sexual assault allegations against him were found to be true.

"And if these accusations are determined to be true, I don't think he's going to have any other option but to resign," Northam said.

Fairfax has said that encounters with both women were consensual. On Sunday, a spokeswoman for the lieutenant governor said he was "aggressively exploring options for a thorough, independent, and impartial investigation" of the allegations. (Reporting by Gary Robertson; editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

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