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Virginia attorney general, third in line for the governorship, says he also wore blackface

The scandal around Virginia’s governorship keeps growing.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring participates in a parade in Haymarket, Virginia in October 2018.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring participates in a parade in Haymarket, Virginia, in October 2018.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

The situation in Virginia keeps getting worse: Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, third in line for the Virginia governorship, now says he, too, wore blackface in the past, at a college party nearly 40 years ago.

“In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” Herring said in a statement on Wednesday. “It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and 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.”

The news deepens the growing scandal in Virginia that began last week with the release of a photo of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page, which showed a man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam initially said one of the men in the picture was him, but he later walked that back. He did, however, confess to wearing blackface as part of a dance contest where he dressed up as Michael Jackson in the 1980s.

Numerous Democrats have called on Northam to step aside and let Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is second in line, take over. But Fairfax is now facing an allegation of sexual assault, which Vox’s Anna North recently laid out:

Patrick Howley of the conservative website Big League Politics reported on Sunday that Vanessa Tyson, a professor of politics at Scripps College, had said she was sexually assaulted in 2004 by a campaign staffer who was now up for a “VERY BIG promotion” in Democratic politics. Howley, who was also the first to obtain the Northam yearbook photo, noted that Fairfax was a campaign staffer for presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 and that he was now poised to become governor of Virginia. Tyson has not responded to Vox’s request for comment.

Fairfax has vehemently denied the allegation, saying in a statement on Monday that he “never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form.” The woman has now hired the same law firm as Brett Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford to represent her in the matter.

If both Northam and Fairfax were to step down because of the respective controversies surrounding them, Herring, 57, would be next in line to become the state’s governor. But now that’s in question too.

“It’s a mess,” state Sen. Lionell Spruill told the Washington Post on Wednesday.

If Northam, Fairfax, and Herring all have to step down and no one else is appointed, the speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, Kirk Cox, would become governor. He is a Republican.

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