Virginia Democrats Are In A Mexican standoff

Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.

Virginia Democrats aren’t quite sure how they got themselves in a circular firing squad, but here they stand with guns drawn and no way out that will avoid ceding ground to the GOP in the short term.  No one seems to know who keeps dropping dimes on their top leaders, but they suspect that some of the calls are coming from inside the house. In a Mexican Standoff, the only safe move is to do nothing, for now.

Things got started when Governor Ralph Northam’s old yearbook surfaced last week, with a picture of a Klansman and a dapper fellow in blackface smack dab in the middle of his page.  By Sunday Justin Fairfax the Lt. Governor, who had been minding his business thinking he was within minutes of taking the Governorship, caught the #MeToo bug when it leaked that he was the subject of a rape allegation.  Today, having previously called for Northam’s resignation, the Attorney General Mark Herring had to admit to walking around with a little blackface of his own.

The picture is quite stark. Each of the three statewide Democrats are mired in scandal and are scrambling to maintain enough support to hold on to office. Lt. Governor Fairfax seems the most vulnerable of the 3 for now. If either Governor Northam or Attorney General Herring leave office, its hard to see any conceivable way for the other to survive what is essentially the same sin. The problem for Democrats is that any scenario that forces even one of the 3 out may not stem the bleeding.

While its very straight forward what would happen should Northam step down (Fairfax would assume the Governorship), all of the next steps quickly get messy.

Ken Cuccinelli, in a Washington Examiner opinion piece today, explains exactly how succession would work:

If the lieutenant governor were elevated to the governorship or if the lieutenant governor resigned — now a genuine possibility — then the current president pro tempore of the State Senate “assumes the duties” of the lieutenant governor. Note that the president pro tempore does not assume the office of lieutenant governor. It is a subtle difference, but the office of lieutenant governor would be left open until the next statewide election in 2021.

The current president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate is Sen. Steve Newman of the Lynchburg area. Newman is a Republican — a mild-mannered conservative who is well-liked on both sides of the aisle.

Interestingly, he would not have to give up his Senate seat as he assumed the duties of the lieutenant governor. That means that he would get his vote as a state senator, and he would also get to vote to break any ties that arise in the chamber.

Messy enough should either Northam or Fairfax exit, stage left. The Virginia Senate is currently 21-19 in favor of the Republicans, so gaining control of the tie breaker would benefit the GOP at least through the fall elections. The scenario should Herring go is just as bleak.  Cuccinelli again:

Aside from whatever Northam decides to do, there is a very real (now expected) possibility that Herring will have to resign as attorney general. If he does so while the General Assembly is in session, they elect a replacement for the duration of the term. If the attorney general resigns while the General Assembly is not in session, then whoever is governor at that time appoints a temporary replacement to serve until the next General Assembly session, at which time the General Assembly elects a replacement to fill that term.

Again a short term boon for the GOP, who would get the opportunity to appoint its own Attorney General. The worm would really turn should the Doomsday scenario (all 3 out) unfold.  The Speaker of the House succeeds to the Governorship should neither of the two inferior officers be able to fulfill that duty, the President Pro Tempore fulfills the duties of Lt. Governor, and the General Assembly appoints the next Attorney General.  A perfect straight flush for the Republicans.

Which of course is why the state Democrat party will remain in its  Mexican standoff, even though everyone suspects everyone else of being the rat.  Any scenario that sees any of the 3 officeholders dispatched obviously redounds to the benefit of the GOP, especially while the General Assembly is in session.  This is why Democrats are suddenly mute on calls for anyone to resign, now that the other shoe has dropped for Herring.  There is no good way out.  The least worst scenario for Democrats is that each man hangs on, even if it means all are severely diminished and unable to push leftist policies in partnership with their caucus in the General Assembly.  They just have to hope no one gets an itchy trigger finger before the end of the term.