Republicans “went nuclear” Friday, as one Democratic delegate put it, announcing that they’ll hold legislative hearings on sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax with or without support from their colleagues across the aisle.
Democrats — at risk of alienating two key constituencies, women and black voters — have struggled to respond as the GOP steadily ratcheted up pressure over the past two days.
One delegate, Lee Carter, D-Manassas, told his colleagues in a floor speech that he was once raped and that the House should respect the wishes of survivors, who, in this case, have called for the General Assembly to hold hearings. He then took to Twitter to tell “rape apologists” to “eat shit.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, said she would only back General Assembly action if Fairfax is convicted in court. She noted the General Assembly has never held legislative hearings on criminal allegations, of which there have been several in recent years.
“Justice is a journey,” she said, “one that takes twist and turns and unfortunately is not consistently applied.”
Meanwhile, the official line from Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, on Friday morning was that the party wants law enforcement to take the lead on any investigation.
“What we don’t want — and we have consensus here, I believe — is that we don’t want this to be a political, partisan circus,” she said, accusing Republicans of trying to distract from their vote to squash the Equal Rights Amendment on Thursday.
But sussing out exactly what letting law enforcement take the lead means has been difficult, especially given the uncertainty that law enforcement will ever actually become involved and repeated statements by both of Fairfax’s accusers that they support General Assembly action. (One of the women, Meredith Watson, has already accepted Republicans’ invitation to testify. The second woman, Vanessa Tyson, said she’s prepared to testify but called on the General Assembly to establish a “bi-partisan path forward that provides for due process for everyone involved.”)
Pressed on the question, Filler-Corn said talks with Republicans never got far enough for Democrats to determine whether they would participate. But she also said she doubted they’d get to a place where Democrats would be willing to sign on. “There’s no reason for us to believe in this political climate that this is going to be bipartisan in any way,” she said.
Aird was one of a handful of members of the caucus to go further, saying they wouldn’t support any General Assembly action unless Fairfax is convicted in court.
“The justice and due process that we seek should be by a law enforcement entity and not by individuals who will be on the ballot in November,” said Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, in a floor speech. “Let me add further that, should due process take its course and the lieutenant governor is convicted, you won’t need to hold hearings, form a committee or call for impeachment because the black women in this body would be the very first of who would be filing articles of impeachment.”
Carter is so far the only member of his party to say he supports legislative hearings, citing his own experience in a floor speech that followed Aird’s.
“When I was raped, I did not report to law enforcement, because I did not believe that that was a way in which I would achieve justice,” said Carter, who has previously told news outlets he was attacked by a woman with whom he was in a relationship at the time.
“Mr. Speaker, it’s important that we not convict people in the public eye before we have had an investigation, however it’s also important that survivors of sexual violence have the option of how they wish to seek justice. Therefore, I must disagree with the delegate from Petersburg. I will respect the wishes of Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson, who have requested this avenue with which to seek justice.”
Sharp exchanges followed on Twitter as Carter responded to criticism from fellow Democrats, telling a 2013 House of Delegates candidate to “eat shit” in response to his assertion that Tyson and Watson weren’t pursuing criminal charges because “they are afraid of perjury.”
To all the rape apologists out there who think about coming at me:
I will drag you. I will be vulgar about it. I will not back down from my support of survivors. And I will got apologize for being one.
— Lee J. Carter (@carterforva) February 23, 2019