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Tough call on Fairfax resignation

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Let me be perfectly clear. Few men have been more hardline when it comes to tossing the book at men, and that includes Black men, who commit acts of sexual abuse, victimization or molestation, and especially rape. Now we come to Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax. When a second woman, Meredith Watson, claimed that he raped her the call for Fairfax to resign flew fast and hard from just about every Democrat around with the added threat that if he didn’t hit the pavement that he’d be impeached. 

There are problems with this that make it a tougher call than would normally be the case for me to join the crowd and demand his political scalp. First, politics: Fairfax is prime pickings for the resignation call from Democrats because they are looking hard over their shoulders at what the many women who boast Me Too credentials and helped power the Democratic surge in the 2018 mid-term elections in state and House races would say if Fairfax stayed in office. The political risk of staying mute is just too great. And if that isn’t enough, the GOP, which still controls the Virginia legislature, is falling all over itself prodding and egging on Democrats to do their duty and dump Fairfax and/or Northam since with them out a path opens for the GOP to snatch back some or all of a badly tainted Democratic executive. Fairfax is caught in this political squeeze.

There’s also the matter of timing. The demand for Northam to resign instantly propelled Fairfax to national fame. He was the man who would take over the reins at the statehouse and become Virginia’s second African-American governor. And since Virginia is a crucial swing state with the 2020 presidential election fast approaching, Fairfax as governor becomes an even bigger national political player. With so many eyes on him, he is just too tempting a target for any dirt or scandal, real or manufactured, to be tossed on him. There is a murky outfit, Big League Politics, ready and more than willing to ensure that Fairfax is tarred.

Then there are the charges from Watson and the other Fairfax accuser, Vanessa Tyson. Both women say that they told their stories of alleged rape and sexual victimization of them by Fairfax to friends, reporters and others in the past. However, there is no indication that they told their stories of rape to police or prosecutors, or in Watson’s case to school authorities at Duke, where she and Fairfax were students and the rape allegedly occurred.

It’s true that in most rape and abuse cases, it is he said, she said, and there are no witnesses. And it’s true that many women won’t report rape because of fear, distrust, trauma and shame. However, with no record of the rape or abuse, the passage of years or decades of saying nothing, and then claims made that do damage with no real opportunity for an impartial investigation and due process, this casts deep doubt not so much on whether the rape actually occurred but on the motive of the accuser for coming forth at a politically charged time. Watson’s attorney made it worse by flatly demanding Fairfax’s resignation, casting even deeper suspicion that the motive is not just justice against a rapist, but Fairfax’s political defrocking.

Fairfax is in a terrible no-win situation. He has been tried and convicted in the media and by his own party. Even if he manages to hold on to the lieutenant governorship, his political future is dead as a door nail. He can certainly kiss any notion of him ever sitting in the Virginia governor’s seat out the door. He’ll always hear the whispers and there’ll be the finger pointing at him as a rapist. He can issue all of the angry, indignant statements protesting his innocence and calling it a smear job against him. But that won’t salvage his name.

As the Fairfax fiasco shows sexual victimization is a vile, dirty and disgusting business. Fairfax, may, just may, be the bad guy that his two accusers say he is. That Fairfax should get the swift boot from office. However, as long as the allegations of rape and sexual misconduct are just that, allegations, Fairfax is entitled to, if not the benefit of the doubt, at least a fair hearing and the investigation that he and others agree he’s entitled to. This is what makes the Fairfax case a tough call.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

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