Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) admitted he once appeared in blackface, plunging the state Democratic Party further into chaos on Wednesday.
Herring’s confession that he dressed in blackface in 1980 when he was a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia makes him the third top-ranked Virginia Democrat who’s been tarred by scandal in recent days, and the second who’s admitted to dressing in blackface. Herring is also second in line to the governorship.
Last Friday, a photo surfaced showing a man in blackface next to another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit on the medical school yearbook page of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The governor refused to resign, and after saying he was in the photo reversed himself to say he wasn’t, though he admitted another occasion he dressed in blackface.
Days later, the same right-wing website that surfaced the Northam yearbook photo reported that a woman accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) of sexually assaulting her in 2004. Fairfax has strongly denied the accusation, and issued a statement late Wednesday morning reiterating his view it had been a consensual sexual encounter.
Nearly every Democrat in the state and nationally has called on Northam to resign, including Herring. If Northam does so, Fairfax would become governor. If both leave, Herring would become governor. At this point, the top three politicians in Virginia, all Democrats, are embroiled in scandals.
If all three resigned at the same time, Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox (R) would become governor. That’s an unlikely scenario, but attempting to predict who will be governor of Virginia in the coming days appears to be an increasingly impossible as new events unfold. Northam could also stay — a scenario that looks increasingly likely since he’s dug in his heels and his logical successors now face major problems as well.
Herring’s statement was released shortly after he met with the state legislative black caucus.
Democrats have been more hesitant to throw Fairfax under the bus, playing wait-and-see to find out whether other accusations emerge against him. And they seem ready to give Herring a bit more of a chance than they did Northam, who infuriated many with his shifting story.
“A lot depends on how [Herring] handles things. Part of the biggest problem with the Northam situation is he called black caucus members and had meetings told them it was his photo and he apologized, and walked it back the next day,” one plugged-in Virginia Democrat told TPM immediately after the black caucus meeting. “People in general are open to grace and forgiveness — but it’s how he handles it.”
Herring said he’d appeared in blackface in 1980 at a college party, to dress up as a rapper he was a fan of.
“Because of our ignorance and our glib attitudes — and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others — we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup,” Herring said.
Herring said that his role in contributing to Virginians’ pain “is the greatest shame I’ve ever felt,” before saying that “honest conversations and discussions” in the coming days will determine whether or not he should remain in office.
Here’s Herring’s full statement:
Please see my statement below. pic.twitter.com/FBDcgxHOq9
— Mark Herring (@MarkHerringVA) February 6, 2019
This story was last updated at 12:25 p.m. EST.