Another brick in the wall
On Feb. 1, an old photo from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page resurfaced, displaying one man in KKK robes and another man in blackface. It was not immediately clear which man in the photo was Northam, though Northam’s claim the next day (after initially admitting that it was him in the photo) that he remembered he wasn’t in the photo after all, wasn’t particularly convincing.
Many commentators wondered aloud why the Virginia Republican Party never found this photo during the 2017 Governor’s race. Others applauded Democratic Party officials for immediately calling on Northam to resign.
However, while calling on Northam to resign is laudable, it is problematic that the Virginia Democratic Party recruited Northam as a candidate, first for Lt. Governor in 2013 and later for Governor in 2017, without properly vetting him as a candidate. If commentators think his Republican opponent Ed Gillespie’s campaign team failed in 2017 by not finding this photo in their opposition research, Democratic Party officials also failed by not conducting a thorough background check on their own candidate.
It doesn’t appear that Northam’s ill-conceived costume was an isolated incident either, as reporters soon found his undergraduate yearbook from Virginia Military Institute, where a racial slur was included under his class photo.
The Democratic Party has a responsibility to ensure that every single one of their endorsed candidates are quality candidates that adequately represent the party’s diverse group of voters.
Virginia Democrats have the right to feel betrayed and disrespected that their state’s leader concealed his history of racist behavior from the public, including many African Americans who helped campaign for Northam.
This issue isn’t unique to one party. Last month Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel, a Republican, resigned when photos of him at a party in blackface from 2005 resurfaced. Republicans in Florida also failed by not vetting Ertel as a candidate.
It is not enough to denounce party leaders when past abhorrent behavior resurfaces online. Democrats, as well as Republicans, must take an active role in ensuring that their leaders are quality candidates and have demonstrated respect and compassion for all their constituents.