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Virginia GOP official who's third in line for governor insists he never wore blackface

Kirk Cox is in a highly unusual position where it’s possible he could ascend to the governor’s office if other officials resign, as they're being pressured to do

by Rex Santus
Feb 8 2019, 3:16pm

Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox said Thursday that he has never worn blackface, after two of Virginia’s three top officials face scandals over wearing racist makeup in the past.

“I have never appeared in blackface,” Cox, the state's highest-ranking Republican, told reporters. “As you know, I was a school teacher, and that’s abhorrent.”

VICE News first reached out to Cox, who's third in the line of succession in the Virginia state government, on Wednesday asking if he had ever appeared in blackface before. His spokesperson responded with a statement that condemned Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, but did not answer the question. Blackface, popularized in the mid-19th century in the U.S. by minstrel performers, has historically been used mostly by white people to caricature black people.

Gov. Northam is facing mounting calls to resign after his 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced, showing an image of a man in blackface standing next to someone in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam has refused to resign and said neither of the people in the photo is him. Herring, meanwhile, convened an urgent meeting with the state’s black caucus this week and shortly thereafter disclosed that he had once appeared in blackface at a college party.

Separately, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, also a Democrat, is facing allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in a Boston hotel room. Fairfax has denied the allegations.

"What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault," Fairfax’s accuser, Vanessa Tyson, said in a statement Wednesday. "Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head toward his crotch."

Cox is in a highly unusual position where it’s possible he could ascend to the governor’s office. If Northam, Fairfax, and Herring resign, Cox takes the office. He became speaker of the House of Delegates by random name-drawing. It would be a huge blow to Democrats, who swept dozens of Republicans out of the House during the midterms.

To add another scandal to the mess, Virginia Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., a Republican, is facing backlash over a 1968 college yearbook he edited that included numerous images of men in blackface, slurs against black and Asian people, and an anti-Semitic joke.

“With 114 editions of The Bomb available online dating back to 1885, I am not surprised that those wanting to engulf Republican leaders in the current situations involving the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General would highlight the yearbook from my graduation a half century ago,” Norment said in a statement to VICE News.

Cover: Virginia Speaker of the House Kirk Cox speaks to the media Monday, Feb. 4, 2019, in Richmond, Va. Cox repeated calls Monday for Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam to step down because of a photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook that shows someone in blackface. (Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)