As Memories of 2019 Scandals Fade, Virginia Democrats Are Poised to Cement Gains

What a difference a year makes.

In February 2019, Democratic politicians from Capitol Hill to Capitol Square were calling for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) resignation. His constitutional understudy, Justin Fairfax (D), stood accused of sexual assault, and the disaster back-up to them both, Mark R. Herring (D), admitted he had worn blackface at a college party in the 1980s.

A year and a General Assembly election later, all three are still in office. It’s not because they were vindicated — far from it.

That may be grating to those who believe Northam got away with the kind of racist sin that toppled former senator George Allen in 2006. It’s also grating to some people that House Democrats stonewalled an investigation into the allegations against Fairfax.

Northam & Co. may be scratched, dented and discounted, but the Democrats in the General Assembly are busy passing bills to sweep away the obsessions and hobby horses of the late Republican majority.

And what of those Republicans?

A year ago, they still held slender majorities in the House and Senate, and the bad memories of the 2017 wave election that nearly swept them out of power were still fresh.

The sudden stumbles of the Big Three Democrats gave them a glimmer of hope that Democrats would lose focus, momentum and legitimacy heading into the November elections.

A year later, and the GOP’s legislative majorities are history, and some elements of the party’s base (I’m looking at you, Jerry Falwell Jr.) seem to think their best hope is joining arms (and political borders) with West Virginia.

Some of that’s politics. The Republicans’ General Assembly losses were a continuation of their precipitous slide since Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, combined with strong Democratic fundamentals.

One could charitably call the rest of what’s happened to Republicans since then, including the bizarre “Vexit” boomlet, sour grapes.

But it’s really a symptom of just how thoroughly Trumpism has debauched the once-formidable Virginia GOP.

Was this inevitable? Let’s indulge in some fan fiction. What if, back in February 2019, Northam, Fairfax and Herring bowed to pressure and resigned?

Then-House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) would have become governor. He may have been a good governor — no nonsense but personable (and with the best gubernatorial hair since Tim Kaine).

Would this have stopped the Democratic ascendancy?

If our fiction is honest, then the answer is probably not.

Even if Northam & Co. were packed out of Capitol Square in the middle of the night and Cox installed in the Executive Mansion the following morning, Virginia Republicans still would have danced to Trump’s tune. Some would have done so willing, others fearfully.

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