Why Democrats Want Northam Out As Soon As Possible

There's a good reason why Democrats want Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to get out of the way sooner rather than later.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam continues to stubbornly stay in power notwithstanding the fact that he has lost the support of the entire Virginia Democratic Party, and Democrats at the national and state level are both looking for ways to push him out of office:

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia had a fragile, defiant hold on power on Sunday as he and a quickly eroding coalition of allies rebuffed demands for his resignation after the revelation of a racist photograph on his medical school yearbook page.

Mr. Northam’s hopes for political survival, Democratic and Republicans officials increasingly believe, are a mounting humiliation for the state, and risk his fellow Democrats’ policy ambitions and their aspirations for crucial state elections this year, when all 140 legislative seats will be at stake.

“The question now is: Can you lead? Can you help us heal?” said Representative A. Donald McEachin, Democrat of Virginia, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “Given the actions that he’s demonstrated over the past 48 hours, the answer’s clearly no.”

Mr. Northam has offered shifting accounts — first, a Friday night apology “for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo,” which shows one person dressed in blackface and another as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, followed on Saturday by professed certainty that neither person in the photograph was him. His stance, and refusal to step down amid a torrent of pressure from his party, has fueled a crisis in Virginia that has rippled into national politics.

“I tell the truth. I’m telling the truth today,” Mr. Northam said on Saturday at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, where he denied a role in the yearbook photograph but acknowledged that he had darkened his face with shoe polish for a Michael Jackson costume at a dance contest in 1984.

But elected officials and strategists in both parties said they believed Mr. Northam was too far compromised to remain in office, his authority and power undercut gravely by his whiplash-inducing efforts to contain the fallout from the picture, which appeared on his page in the 1984 yearbook at Eastern Virginia Medical School.


Although Mr. Northam faces pressure from Republicans, his own Democratic Party has been the most vocal force in seeking a resignation.

“We no longer believe he can effectively serve as the governor of Virginia and that he must resign,” Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine and Representative Robert C. Scott, all of them Democrats and two of them former governors themselves, said in a statement on Saturday evening.

But as of Sunday, the start of one of the most important weeks of this year’s legislative session, Mr. Northam remained the state’s 73rd governor, even as he grew more isolated.

“I can appreciate his desire for reconciliation, and I thank him for that notion,” Charniele L. Herring, a Democratic state legislator from Alexandria, said in an interview after the governor’s news conference on Saturday. “But there are too many important issues at stake right now in our commonwealth.”

The question of Mr. Northam’s political fate has also reverberated to the barely-begun presidential campaign trail, where Democratic candidates and potential candidates have insisted that he resign. President Trump, a Republican, spoke out on Saturday night, when he wrote on Twitter that Mr. Northam had done something “unforgivable!”

“Ed Gillespie, who ran for Governor of the Great State of Virginia against Ralph Northam, must now be thinking Malpractice and Dereliction of Duty with regard to his Opposition Research Staff,” Mr. Trump wrote. “If they find that terrible picture before the election, he wins by 20 points!”


Democrats fear that if Mr. Northam remains, he will prove a drag on the party’s fund-raising and jeopardize its efforts to persuade voters in a year when control of both legislative chambers is expected to be bitterly and closely contested.

It is not clear how legislators and other state leaders, like Attorney General Mark R. Herring, will proceed if Mr. Northam continues to insist on staying in office. Scholars and Virginia officials have been studying the State Constitution and its provisions to oust a sitting governor.

Virginia’s Constitution allows the impeachments of governors for “offending against the Commonwealth by malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty or other high crime or misdemeanor.” If Mr. Northam chooses to remain in office and legislators ultimately seek his impeachment, the House of Delegates would be the first legislative chamber to consider the matter. The Senate would conduct any subsequent trial and determine whether Mr. Northam kept power.

In many respects, the Northam situation puts Democrats in the same position they were in when the revelations about the behavior of former Minnesota Senator Al Franken became public knowledge during the height of the MeToo movement in the fall of 2017. Had those revelations come out at any other time, it’s possible that Franken might have been able to survive politically, or at least avoid the rapid and widespread calls for his resignation that followed as each of the allegations against him became public. Because of the tenor of the times, though, and thanks in no small part to the fact that the Democrats were preparing to run against a President who has made a habit of verbally attacking women, been caught on tape bragging about what amounts to sexual assault, and been credibly accused of sexual harassment and assault by nearly two dozen women, Franken’s behavior was something that his fellow Democrats could not tolerate.

The Northam story puts Democrats in the same position with regard to race. There’s no question that this President has spent much of the last three and a half years openly appealing to xenophobia and white supremacy to the point where he referred to the participants in the August 2017 march in Charlottesville that led to the death of a young counter-protester as “very fine people,” a line he repeated on several occasions. Additionally, Trump Administration policies such as the Muslim travel ban, immigration, and other areas are clearly rooted in an ideology that at the very least appeals to the so-called alt-right and anti-immigrant groups that clearly base their views on racism and bigotry. In no small part that explains why Democrats in both Richmond and across the nation have been so quick to call for Northam’s resignation. In an era where they are rightfully condemning the President and his Republican enablers for appeals to white supremacy and xenophobia, something like the Northam incident stands as a distraction that cannot be tolerated. Additionally, as was the case with Franken, who was succeeded by Minnesota’s junior Senator Tina Smith, if Northam were to lead he’d be replaced by Democratic Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, a young African-American who has been something of a rising star in Virginia politics for some time now. Given that, getting Northam off the stage and out of the public eye as quickly as possible is in the best interests of the party.

As things stand, of course, Northam continues to refuse to leave office. How long that continues remains to be seen, but there are some options available under the Virginia Constitution. The most obvious can be found in Article IV, Section 17, which gives the House of Delegates the authority to impeach an Executive Branch official or member of the Judiciary for “malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty, or other high crime or misdemeanor.” As with the Federal Constitution, there is no definitive definition of what meets this standard, but like its Federal counterpart, it essentially means whatever a majority of the House of Delegates says it means. Once impeached, the procedure in Virginia is roughly similar to that in the Federal Constitution, with the State Senate left with the duty of conducting a trial and removal mandated only if two-thirds of State Senators vote to convict and remove the official. In addition to this provision, there is an equivalent to the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in Article V, Section 16 that provides a procedure to remove a Governor from office. The difference is that in Virginia the representation that the Governor is unable to discharge his duties can be made by the Attorney General, the President pro tempore of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Delegates acting together, or a majority of the total membership of the General Assembly. Whether or not it will come to this depends on what Northam does next. If he tries to stay in office, then Democrats in Richmond will likely come under increased pressure to remove him from office involuntarily sooner rather than later.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. CSK says:

    Is he still maintaining that he has no idea how that picture got on his page?

  2. @CSK:

    There were reports of a late afternoon meeting at the Governor’s Mansion. Not sure what that might lead to in the morning

  3. Tyrell says:

    So it’s politics after all.
    “It’s all for nothing, All for nothing”

  4. CSK says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I would guess he was being pressed to resign.

  5. jake says:

    “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
    ― George Orwell

    As the Democrats drift from the truth.

  6. jake says:

    “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
    ― George Orwell

    Democrats drift

  7. Kylopod says:

    @jake: It’s inspiring how much admiration you have for one of the 20th-century’s best-known socialists.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
    ― George Orwell

    As the Democrats drift from the truth.

    Hmm…so let’s see…this post is about how Democrats want to get rid of Ralph Northam ASAP, and we get a line about how Democrats are drifting from the truth…I guess jake would be happier if Democrats embraced racism/racists…you know, like Trump does…

  9. Gustopher says:

    There’s also the fact that he is clearly lying, and has not regained his constituents trust — his press conference was his chance to start repairing damage, and he somehow made it worse.

    (I am eagerly awaiting Northam’s clarification where he says that learned the yearbook editor added the photo of some other racists to his page because they were annoyed that Northam was such a racist, and then mentions yet another racist thing he did, beyond blackface Michael Jackson. He hasn’t put all the parts together, but I think that’s where his story is heading)

    He cannot effectively represent many of his constituents, and if he resigns he gets replaced by another Democrat. Is there any reason for anyone to tell him not to resign?

    Politics here coincides with the right thing to do.

    Now, if it turns out that Virginia isn’t 20% black, and that most of those people are in blackface, well, then he probably would make a great governor going forward.

  10. Gustopher says:

    Because of the tenor of the times, though, and thanks in no small part to the fact that the Democrats were preparing to run against a President who has made a habit of verbally attacking women, been caught on tape bragging about what amounts to sexual assault, and been credibly accused of sexual harassment and assault by nearly two dozen women, Franken’s behavior was something that his fellow Democrats could not tolerate.

    The backlash against Franken was not this strong or universal — he could have held on until the Ethics Committee investigation he requested. But, after 8 accusations, and knowing his own behavior, he chose to resign.

    If he would have been replaced by a Republican, he would have hung on, like the NJ Senator (Menéndez?) — different ethical problems, but conveniently less important than losing a vote in the Senate.

    It’s not politics making Democrats call for Northam’s resignation, it was politics making Democrats not call for Menendez’s resignation (if I have that name right at all). It was politics that made Republicans not call for Roy Moore to step aside in his Senate campaign, and which made a fair number of folks vote for him while tasting a little bit of vomit in the back of their mouths.

    I support being pragmatic about these things, by the way. A lot of things government does are more important than the failures of a few leaders.

    I also don’t hold it against the Roy Moore voters, except for the ones who pretended he was fine.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tyrell: Everything is politics.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:


    I also don’t hold it against the Roy Moore voters,

    I do. Something about voting for a stalker of vulnerable underage girls in life crisis situations screams moral bankruptcy.

  13. MordechaiShalomberg says:


    The enemy of my enemy. He may have been a socialist,but he was no friend to globohomo. He wasn’t one of you.

  14. Kylopod says:



    I confess I never heard the term “globohomo” before, but I had an inkling about it, especially coupled with this user’s screen name. The first hit I got on Google was from Urban Dictionary:

    “A word used to describe a globalized and homogenized culture pushed for by large companies, politicians, and Neocon/Leftist pawns. This culture includes metropolitan ideals such as diversity, homosexuality, sexual degeneracy, colorblindness in regard to race, egalitarianism, money worship, and the erasure of different individual cultures, among other things. The term is often used by Alt-Right figures, as well as other people associated to the right on the political spectrum, who are aware of the globalization being forced upon multiple countries. Also used to describe Global Capitalism and/or Marxism. The globohomo system is referred to as the Globohomo Gayplex.”

    Most of the remaining sites were alt-right and neo-Nazi sites such as the Daily Stormer.

    Learn something new every day.

  15. James Joyner says:

    I don’t see how he survives this. Yet, while it’s true that Virginia’s impeachment provision, like its Federal counterpart, is politically defined, it’s hard to make a credible argument that having appeared in a racially insensitive yearbook picture 35 years ago constitutes a crime, high or otherwise. There would have to at least be a pretense that he’d committed a crime while in office. And I can’t imagine many politicians wanting to establish the precedent that dissembling with the public is such a crime.

  16. Guarneri says:

    I was in Richmond this weekend. Wall to wall press coverage. I don’t believe what he said for a minute. But I do believe no quarter was given by shallow and opportunistic politicians (and the black grievance industry), or a press who behaved like animals. The truth is that people in all walks of life say and do racist things, black, white, Hispanic etc etc. Not to mention in a time of different mores. Did someone say something about casting the first stone?

    His almost assuredly dishonest response seems the greater sin.

  17. DrDaveT says:


    His almost assuredly dishonest response seems the greater sin.

    Holy crap, I agree with Guarneri.

    Next up: the Apocalypse. Film at 11.

  18. the Q says:

    What’s going to happen if Fairfax’s accuser steps forward and does a Chrissy Blassy Ford?

    Are Northam’s critics going to be as self righteous towards Fairfax as they’ve been toward Kavanaugh and Northam, or do they bend all over themselves saying that the “woman is discredited, or mistaken” as Fairfax this weekend came out and denied it all. Anyone really think throwing Al Franken to the wolves was a good idea?

    Somehow, I feel there should be a double standard. And, yes a Democrat posing in black face 35 years ago at a costume party if he has voted liberal on race/gender issues, should get a pass over the redneck Klansmen wingnut doing the same thing at a cross burning

    Amazing how there is no room for error, even going back to high school for the PC crowd.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @the Q: why is Al “Ass Grabbin’” Franken a rallying cry for anyone?

    He has no one to blame for what happened other than himself. He’s the one who had eight women willing to claim that he had groped him, and decided to resign rather than go to the ethics committee as he had initially said he would do. Most of these accusations were from his time as Senator.

    He betrayed the trust of his constituents and his donors. He knew that with his past, he had to stay squeaky clean, and still he went for a squeeze. He may have meant it to be funny, but he should have known better. He repeatedly said he knew better, and had to be careful not to be funny, about things other than grabbing butts.

    He wasn’t fed to the wolves. He chose to resign rather than face the ethics committee.

    What do you want people to say? I’m sorry Al “Ass Grabbin’” Franken faced consequences for his actions?

    No. Screw him.

  20. Guarneri says:


    You are trainable. Its not supernatural. ;->

  21. Gustopher says:


    Something about voting for a stalker of vulnerable underage girls in life crisis situations screams moral bankruptcy.

    It’s clearly a moral choice. There has to be something that balances that. If you believe abortion is murder, and the opponent thus supports mass murder, it’s a distasteful but reasonable compromise.

    I have often said that I would vote for a child molester over a Republican — the numbers of lives damaged is less with the child molester. It’s something I came to after watching Republicans hold children’s healthcare hostage for god knows what, about a decade ago.

    Look at the Trump administration, which has stolen about a thousand children by separating them from their families at the border and then losing track of how to reunite them. How many children can even the most efficient child molester fvck in under two years? Less than that.

    Choosing the lesser of two evils is choosing less evil.

    I’d rather there was a way to replace people on a ticket, so no one has to make that type of choice though. In Alabama, Roy Moore should have been able to withdraw in disgrace and be replaced with a boring Republican.

  22. The Q says:

    So Gustopher, the next thing you’d do is not sell a wedding cake to gays if we follow your logic of disapproving of someone’s character.

  23. DrDaveT says:

    @The Q:

    So Gustopher, the next thing you’d do is not sell a wedding cake to gays if we follow your logic of disapproving of someone’s character.

    What? Where did Gustopher ever say anything about “disapproving of character”? He was talking about damage — actually hurting people. That’s not about aesthetics; it’s about basic human decency.

    I don’t ‘disapprove’ of torture because torturers have bad character; I disapprove of it because eliminating torture from the world is a pure good. When I act to prevent torturers from torturing, it’s not because I “disapprove of their characters” — I would act the same if the torturers were inanimate objects, because preventing the torture is the important part.

    This isn’t rocket science. Preventing harm to people isn’t a fringe benefit; it’s the core reason to oppose Republican policies.

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @the Q: Who is Fairfax? There was a teacher with that name in 2011, but he was exonerated and indemnified to the tune of about 80 grand, so it can’t be that case.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:


    I’d rather there was a way to replace people on a ticket,

    There is. It’s called a “write in candidate”, or not voting in that race at all.

    I’m sorry, I find all your excuses for voting for a sexual predator as so much hand waving because elections, like life, aren’t perfect.

    Think about it, can you imagine a Christian voting for Charles Manson because he and his followers only committed 9 murders when God himself aborts hundreds of thousands of children every year?

    That’s f’d up.

  26. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Zero defect cultures are indicative of failing communities. If a guy who was allegedly a racist 35 years ago (or did racist things) wised up and now fights for your team can’t have a home in the party…what kind of party do you have. If anything this guy can be used to message rural white men in Virginia that people can change and be welcomed into the Democratic fold. Yet more evidence that Democrats are only slightly less dumb than Republicans.

    The Talk Radio Party vs the Twitter Party.

    Oh well–at least I can rest assured that my white liberal protectors are fighting racism everyday on my behalf