Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (D.) is still considering running for governor in 2021 despite facing multiple allegations of sexual assault.
Fairfax told reporters during a roundtable discussion Thursday the allegations raised his public profile in the state and he has encountered supporters in the state encouraging him to run despite the allegations.
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"Many people a year ago would not have recognized me, now they really do," the lieutenant governor said. "People come up to me at gas stations, they say, ‘Hey, we recognize you. We love you. We know what they are saying about you is false.’"
"I’m very hopeful about the future. We’ve gotten a lot of encouragement about future political steps. I’m thinking very seriously about 2021," Fairfax added.
Fairfax was expected to ascend to the governorship in February after racist photos emerged from Governor Ralph Northam’s college yearbook page. As the scandal unfolded, two women came forward to level claims that Fairfax had sexually assaulted them in the early 2000s.
Fairfax has staunchly denied the allegations, calling them untrue and part of a smear campaign against him. In a February speech at the state capitol, he compared himself to lynching victims and lamented the lack of due process he has received during the scandal.
Both Fairfax and Northam have refused to resign despite previous calls from prominent federal and state Democrats.
The women accusing Fairfax of sexual assault have both said they are willing to testify in a public hearing and Republican legislators have expressed support of holding hearings about the allegations.
Republicans have renewed these calls after it was announced the General Assembly would hold a special session in July to discuss potential legislation on guns following a mass shooting in Virginia Beach.
"Both women have stated that they will only participate in legislative hearings if the hearings are public and both Republicans and Democrats participate," Republican Delegate Rob Bell, chair of the Courts of Justice Committee, said in a letter to his Democrat counterpart on the committee. "I wish to renew my offer for truly bipartisan hearings."
Democrats rejected the offers from Republicans to hold public hearings as "political games" and a spokeswoman for Fairfax said Republican-led hearings would amount to a "show trial" that would not reveal the truth.
Fairfax could face a fractured primary if he chooses to run for governor in 2021. Attorney General Mark Herring, who admitted to wearing blackface at a college party after Northam and Fairfax’s scandals, has also expressed interest in running for governor.
Northam is bound by state rules from seeking another term.