3 February 2019
As your constituent, I want to offer you my moral support in this tough time you are going through.
When you gave your press conference and explained why you had made the admission that you later had to retract or clarify, I understood what had happened. You had been trying to do the right thing by apologizing, but then realized you had made a mistake and admitted to something you didn’t do. So the next day, you sought to explain more fully and set the record straight.
This happens all the time. Most of the legislators who are giving you a hard time right now are lawyers, and therefore should be familiar with this type of scenario. Suspects, under pressure from a detective to confess to a crime, will often admit to an act they didn’t commit. Then later they have to try to recant and explain that they falsely confessed. People who have not been under that kind of stress don’t understand what it’s like, or how one could make that kind of error, but we know it happens often.
Some of the same Democrats who are attacking you now would say that a black defendant who committed a drug felony 35 years ago should be forgiven by society, and have his civil rights restored so that he can participate in the political process. Yet they would also say that you should step down and leave politics because you darkened your skin in a talent show, which is not even a criminal offense. These critics are not being consistent in their thinking.
Then they want to say that you should resign because you mishandled the public relations aspects of the situation. But every politician makes gaffes. At least you tried to be as honest about it as you could, rather than giving a false explanation that might appease people more. Even if it’s not good politics, it’s the right thing to do.
The problem is that we’re in an era where Democrats want to base their strategy for winning the coming elections on accusing Republicans of being white supremacist, and Republicans want to argue, “Democrats are the real racists.” You simply got caught in the middle of that, and now both parties feel the need to compete to show that they’re the less racist. The way they’re doing that is by competing to see which one can attack you the most fiercely.
There are good reasons, though, why you might not want to resign. Your staying would help uphold a principle that politicians should not be attacked for what they said or did 35 years ago. We just got done with the Kavanaugh hearings, which were another scenario where a man’s future was being decided based on a long-ago alleged incident of youthful horseplay (not even alleged to have been sexual in nature) from when he was 17. Shouldn’t there be any statute of limitations on how far back we’ll go in judging a man’s character based on what he did, or may have done, many years ago?
Part of the problem with going back so far in digging up these old incidents is that people’s memories will have faded. 35 years is a long time, so no wonder you had trouble remembering exactly what happened or didn’t happen. Yet they expected you to have perfect recall when put on the spot and suddenly confronted with these emotionally charged accusations. They’re behaving unreasonably and uncharitably toward you.
If you resign, then the will of the people, as expressed in the primary where they chose you among the field of Democrats, and the general election, where they chose you over your Republican opponent, will have been thwarted. Both the governor and lieutenant governor positions will be filled by people who were not elected to those positions. For example, the lieutenant gubernatorial role, currently held by Democrat Justin Fairfax, will be taken by Steve Newman, the Republican pro tempore of the senate.
We don’t actually know that Justin Fairfax would make a better governor than you, or that Steve Newman wold make a better lieutenant governor than Justin Fairfax. All we know is that the voters did not choose them for those roles. You were the one they chose to be governor, and Fairfax was the one they chose to be lieutenant governor.
Your position is not like that of a legislator, who could be removed from his committees and shunned by his colleagues for saying or doing something they don’t like. As leader of the executive branch, you still have the necessary authority to do your job effectively. You are still in command of your cabinet and the other public servants in your administration.
The Constitution of Virginia makes the executive branch separate from the legislative so that you can be independent, and not have to bow to the wishes of your fellow Democratic politicians if you don’t want to. The Constitution also gives you a four-year term, and says that you don’t have to resign unless it’s your choice. You have committed no impeachable offense. So why should you be compelled to quit? The governor is the leader of his state party; the other Democratic politicians are supposed to follow your lead, and not the other way around.
Democrats didn’t like the fact that you voted for George W. Bush twice, but for some reason they consider stuff you did much longer ago than that less forgivable. But in both cases, you say that you’ve had a change of heart since then. The voters were willing to accept that you’d changed your politics since the 2000 and 2004 elections, so who’s to say that if the question were put to them, they wouldn’t also accept that you’d changed your views on race since the talent show 35 years ago? We have no way of knowing.
Your intent in darkening your face to perform as Michael Jackson was to pay tribute to a performer you admired. Michael Jackson himself lightened his skin; yet this was not decried by whites as a racist or disrespectful act, nor did it end his musical career, the way some people want your political career ended. In fact, in many cultures, such as Filipino culture, skin-lightening is a common practice. On the other hand, whites will often (temporarily) change their skin tone too by going to tanning salons. Changing one’s skin color is not really that big of a deal; these are just aesthetic choices. It is part of our freedom of expression which we cherish as Americans.
Organizations like the NAACP, having achieved most of their civil rights goals, probably feel like they’re having trouble staying relevant. They have to make you seem like a villain so that they can seem like heroes for attacking you. This helps them attract publicity, donations, etc.
It’s unfortunate that you got caught in the middle of that, and that they’ve made their problem your problem. But until someone stands up against this kind of bullying, there will be more incidents like this, where people act outraged over a minor mistake in judgment, and form a howling mob to call for his head on a platter. You should stay firm in your position that you did nothing to deserve being forced to resign.
It’s tempting, when a man is betrayed by his friends, for him to become weak and say, “I’ll just quit, if that’s what they want me to do.” But the young people of our Commonwealth need the example of a man who will stand strong in his convictions. If your fellow Democratic politicians say that you can’t lead effectively, what is really happening is that they are the ones who are refusing to let you lead effectively, and therefore if anything, they should be the ones to step down.
If I were going to be cynical, I might also say that perhaps what’s going on is that some people prefer Justin Fairfax’s politics to yours, and that’s why they want to pretend to be outraged, so they can pressure you to quit so he can take your place. But again, Fairfax wasn’t chosen by the people to be governor; you were. You were the one who ran for that office and won; he wasn’t.
You probably have a lot of people who quietly support you but don’t want to say anything lest people accuse them of being racist. But, people called Donald Trump racist too, and he got elected anyway. It’s too bad that, after he got treated that way, he’s now attacking you as well. If you were a Republican, he’d probably be siding with you.
The worst case scenario is, if you choose to stay in office, you have to deal with these people giving you a hard time for the next two-and-a-half years, and then you can leave politics if you want. That’s not too bad. If you quit, though, it’s almost like you’re acknowledging you did something very wrong; yet you just got done correcting your mistake in making a false admission of having been in that yearbook photo. So to resign would be to compound your earlier mistake.
So, I say, you should stay. Let the snarling, barking, yelping dogs of the media and leftist establishment make all the noise they want, while you focus on your own work, under the protection of the constitutionally guaranteed separation of powers and four-year term which you have every right to complete.