Former Vice President Al Gore and NAACP board member Rev. William Barber II are uniting to save Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D.) by getting him to embrace a more liberal agenda on the environment.
At the potential construction site of a natural gas pumping station, Barber outlined how Northam’s governorship could find the "path to redemption" with the right policies, the Washington Post reports. Gore said the shame of Northam’s racism scandal could be a positive thing if it pushes him toward Gore’s preferred policies.
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"If it resulted in Governor Northam saying, ‘I’ve seen the light, I’m going to change the policy,’ then God intends it for good," Gore said.
Northam’s governorship appeared to be on life support when a photo from his medical school yearbook came out, showing a person in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Another yearbook, from Northam's time at Virginia Military Institute, stoked the flames. It listed one of his nicknames as "Coonman." He initially apologized but then denied being in the photo and admitted to another blackface incident at a party, but Barber argued he could be a national leader.
"What he should do more than resign is he should get the resolve to be serious and take on this project," Barber said. "He could lead the nation. He could lead the South."
At issue is the fact that the $7.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would stretch 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, is held up in court at the moment. But Dominion Energy hopes to build a pumping station in Union Hill, which is identified as a historic African-American community.
The Post story claims that "Northam’s place now in the national dialogue" will require proving he's serious about racial reconciliation.
"As long as he responds to calls to resign with promises to seek racial reconciliation, pressure will mount for him to act and prove he means it," writes the Post’s Richmond, Virginia reporter Gregory Schneider. "Environmental advocates have seized on the moment."
Democrats almost unanimously called for Northam’s resignation when the scandal started, but Barber and Gore are working together to give him a path forward. Barber said what blackface means for cultural racism is receiving too much attention and Northam should focus on more important matters.
"Deal with the systemic racism. Voting rights. Economic inequality. You want to deal with racism — stop getting all excited over cultural things and let’s get down to the real issue about racism," Barber said.
Barber said paying attention to Virginians opposed to the pipeline is the way Northam can prove he’s sincerely sorry about the yearbook.
"All the stuff that he has said — wanting forgiveness, wanting this, wanting to apologize — is suspect until he faces these kinds of systemic problems," Barber said, adding that if he addressed the pumping station in Union Hill "we’d stand right there with him."
Barber went on to use the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus in the Bible, who showed the sincerity of his repentance when he gave away half his possessions, as an example.
"[Jesus] said if you really want to show you mean it, restore to the people what you’ve taken from them," Barber said.
"Pay the debts back," Gore agreed.