GOP senators staying out of House’s push for Fairfax hearings

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax presides over the Senate at the Virginia State Capitol, Feb. 7, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. Virginia state politics are in a state of upheaval, with Gov. Ralph Northam and State Attorney General Mark Herring both admitting to past uses of blackface and Fairffax accused of sexual assault. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In the waning days of the General Assembly session, Republicans in the House of Delegates steadily ratcheted up pressure on Democrats as they pushed legislative hearings on sexual assault claims against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate where Fairfax was presiding daily over the chamber, GOP members have been relatively quiet beyond an initial statement released after the second accuser came forward. It called for law enforcement investigations, a position that tracks more closely with the position taken by most House Democrats.

After House Republicans announced Friday that they’d proceed with legislative hearings, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan T. McDougle of Hanover said the Senate had nothing to add beyond its initial statement, which he said leaders were “continuing to maintain.”

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, said the silence from his side of the Capitol is intentional and unlikely to change, citing the possibility of impeachment and the Senate’s role should that transpire.

“The Constitution of Virginia provides that the articles of impeachment are filed with the House of Delegates, that they are to conduct an evidentiary hearing. The Senate of Virginia sits as jurors and makes the ultimate determination,” Norment said.

“My position has been that the Senate should not be publicly commenting one way or the other on the Justin Fairfax matter because we should remain impartial jurors so that we have not expressed an opinion before we’ve even considered the evidence.

“It’d kind of be like tainting a jury.”

A poll by Roanoke College released Tuesday — from phone interviews of 598 Virginia residents 18 or older — found that a plurality of Virginians think Fairfax should not resign. That goes also for Attorney General Mark Herring and Gov. Ralph Northam, who have both admitted to appearing in blackface.

“A majority of Virginia residents (54 percent) thinks that having ever dressed in blackface does not disqualify a person from serving as an elected official,” the college found.

However, the numbers get more complicated when broken down by race. A majority of black residents surveyed believed Herring and Northam, but not Fairfax, should resign. the majority of white residents across the board believed none should resign.

Editor Robert Zullo contributed.

From The Bulletin, the Mercury’s blog, where we post quick hits on the news of the day, odds and ends and commentary.