Justin Fairfax could soon be a household name, with the scandal enveloping Virginia Governor Ralph Northam potentially having Fairfax in line to become the nation’s youngest governor — and one of its most progressive.
Northam was caught in a scandal on Friday after the release of his medical school yearbook page showing a picture of two men, one wearing blackface and the other donning a Ku Klux Klan white hood and robe. Several news outlets reported on the page from the 1985 Eastern Virginia Medical School Yearbook, prompting an apology from the Democratic governor.
In the statement, released on the state’s website, Northam said that the behavior was “not in keeping with who I am today” and acknowledged that it had shaken Virginians’ faith in him.
“I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused,” the statement read. “I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”
But many top Democrats say the apology isn’t enough, and are calling on Northam to resign. That includes presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Julian Castro, as well as the NAACP. Other political experts said that with Virginia set to serve as potentially the most important swing state in the 2020 presidential election, the pressure on Northam to resign will likely continue to grow.
While Ralph Northam has not yet given an indication that he plans to resign, attention is already turning to Justin Fairfax, the 39-year-old Virginia lieutenant governor who would be in line to take over as governor if Northam were to resign. Virginia’s charter says that Fairfax would take over as governor and would appoint a new lieutenant governor, who would be up for a special election for the final two years of the term.
Justin Fairfax is only the second African-American to be elected to a statewide office in Virginia, following only former Governor Douglas Wilder. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2017 after defeating Republican Jill Vogel.
As the Washington Post noted in a 2017 profile, Fairfax was known for his progressive streak in a “purple” state that has gone both for Democrats and Republicans in presidential elections the last decade. The report noted that Fairfax drew the ire of Republicans after responding to a questionnaire from a local chapter of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s political group where he showed support for “Medicare-for-all” and a guaranteed minimum income.