What to do about Northam


Governor Ralph Northam gives his inaugural address. Northam won the gubernatorial election in 2017 with 53.9% of the vote. (Photo by Flikr user)

Editorial Board

Falls Church City is one of Governor Northam’s core constituencies.

In the 2017 election, Northam secured over 75% of the vote in the Little City- high, even for one of Virginia’s liberal bastions. This means that the Democratic Party here serves as a litmus test of progressive sentiment in the state.

So when the local party delivered a resounding rebuke of Northam’s leadership in the wake of racist images from his yearbook page surfacing, it should have become apparent to the Governor that he should abandon his attempt to weather the political fallout.

“We urge Governor Northam to resign,” said the chair of the Falls Church Democratic Committee, Peg Willingham, in a joint statement with other regional counterparts. “We refuse to place party loyalty above our core principles.”

The Lasso echoes these calls for Northam’s resignation and affirms the necessity of better, more morally accountable leadership across the administration.

Sophomore Grace Tarpgaard, a student representative to the Falls Church Democratic Committee, put it this way:

“As a student involved in politics, I look to the governor of my state as an example of good leadership and morals, and no matter what party they belong to, this kind of behavior is just unacceptable and we deserve better.”

First and foremost, Northam’s actions in grad school are inexcusable. They disqualify him from the governorship because his history of racism, however distant, proves an inconsistency in the values he claimed to represent as both a candidate and office-holder.

But Northam’s personal immorality is not all that necessitates his resignation. Virginia has a painful history of slavery, segregation, and racism, and the wounds are still fresh.

Two years ago, a few months before Northam’s election, a neo-nazi rally gathered in Charlottesville. And until only recently, the Virginia Democratic Party was tolerant of racism; the late Senator Harry F. Byrd Jr. from Virginia, who led a major resistance movement against desegregation, was still involved in the party as recently as 2004. The Commonwealth deserves a leader who will serve as a committed opponent of that culture.

Northam’s flippant response to accusations- which included Twitter rants and a moon-walk attempt-  shows that he no longer has the credibility to address systemic injustice and racism in Virginia. In a state where a neo-Confederate candidate can win 45% of the vote, this is a crucial responsibility of the office of the Governor.

Additionally, Northam is simply not entitled to the governorship – his long, distinguished career as a public servant does not make him immune to scandal or reproach.  The position is an honor, and an overwhelming number of those who granted him the opportunity to serve in the 2017 election have made it clear that they’re taking it back.

Our district’s state senator and Virginia’s Senate minority leader, Dick Saslaw, has been one of the only notable Democrats to come out in support of Governor Northam. Although he has since changed his position, Saslaw initially dismissed criticism of Northam saying that “while [the image] is in very poor taste, I would think no one in the General Assembly would like their college conduct examined.”

However, college students and high-schoolers across the country are regularly expelled for racist conduct. Their actions as students will have lasting impacts on their public and professional lives. As the current Governor, Ralph Northam’s experience as a student should- at the very least- be held to the same level of scrutiny.

Additionally, it is in the best interest of the Democratic Party to fight for the moral high ground, because its politics are grounded in idealism, and not cynicism. In order to do so, the party has to cleanse itself of its racist history even if it means losing the governorship.

As high school students, we didn’t have the opportunity to vote for the people who currently represent us. Regardless, we’re involved in politics, and we deserve better role models. Even though Northam may weather the political crisis, the state will be irreparably damaged by the moral crisis his actions provoked. For the future of his party, and the Commonwealth, Northam must resign.