Opinion: Independent Progressive: Governor Northam and the Yearbook Controversy

Opinion: Independent Progressive: Governor Northam and the Yearbook Controversy

In this world of the internet and instant communication, it is hard to understand how Ralph Northam’s disgusting Medical School yearbook page didn’t come to light before now. But then I have wondered the same about Donald Trump’s tax returns—how is it possible that they haven’t somehow come to light before now?! There the comparison between these two men ends.

Ralph Northam throughout his career as a pediatric neurologist caring for children, a legislator and now Governor of Virginia has been untouched by scandal and widely respected as a decent, ethical and honest person. Donald Trump not so much. Although Northam comes from a region of Virginia not known for leadership in racial tolerance and love, he seems an honorable man and has been recognized for both. The yearbook fiasco comes as a shock to Virginians familiar with Northam and his record of service. Yet, Virginia politicians, including most Democrats, are abandoning the Governor, already screaming for him to resign. Never mind that they don’t know for a fact if he is in the despicable picture.

The inset pictures on his college yearbook page are disgusting and painful reminders of racial wounds still healing in this hardcore home of the old Confederacy which refused to desegregate all public schools nearly twenty years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. The picture of two people, one in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume, is insulting in one case and far worse in the other. The Klan is a pure terrorist organization.

While Northam has acknowledged that he had once put on blackface in a dance competition, he now denies being either of those in the yearbook picture. Given what we know about Ralph Northam, I find this explanation believable. Yearbook pranks, including nasty ones, by other students are not uncommon. In fact, Eastern Virginia Medical School subsequently banned the yearbook permanently because people just “couldn’t stop being racist” (according to the Washington Post, 2/4/19). The school, to its credit, has now launched an investigation to find out how the picture might have gotten into the 1984 yearbook and, if possible, who is in the picture. Why can’t Virginia politicians, especially Democrats who have worked with Mr. Northam to achieve vital legislation, including the expansion of Medicaid to serve 400,000 low-income Virginians, for example, do likewise? Why can’t they wait for the results of the investigation to be certain about the picture before rushing to judgment, trashing the Governor and ending the career of a good man? Could it be because they are looking ahead to the 2019 elections when Democrats hope to take control of both houses of the general assembly….and the power to reapportion both Congressional and Virginia legislative districts?

If the investigation proves that Northam indeed is in the picture, especially if he were in the KKK outfit, and that he has lied about the picture, then indeed he must resign or even be removed from office. This outcome is far too important, with crushing human consequences, to be rushed for political expediency of the Democratic Party. I would like to think we are better than that. Let’s get it right.