Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax appeared headed on a political collision course Sunday with a little-known state delegate from his own party who pledged to introduce articles of impeachment Monday if the 39-year-old Democrat refused to resign.
Fairfax is one of three top Virginia political leaders engulfed in a firestorm of scandal. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, also Democrats, admitted wearing blackface at parties in the 1980s, and Fairfax faced accusations of sexual assault he repeatedly has denied.
Del. Patrick Hope said the state constitution "states very clearly that impeachment should be for high crimes and misdemeanors. There is no question that violent sexual assault clearly qualifies as high crime."
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said the House could impeach Fairfax given that the GOP seems to "perceive little downside" to it.
"If Fairfax is impeached, it remains unclear whether the Senate would convict," Tobias told USA TODAY. "A two-thirds vote is needed, and that may depend on the evidence offered."
Fairfax reaffirmed his innocence Saturday and his intention to remain in office. He called for “space in this moment for due process" and for an FBI investigation. The FBI declined to comment.
Fairfax's statement came hours after the state Democratic Party joined the chorus of calls for his resignation. Chair Susan Swecker said that in light of the "credible nature" of the latest claims against Fairfax, "it has become clear that he can no longer fulfill the duties and responsibilities of his post."
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus also has called for Fairfax to step down.
Fairfax, who would succeed Northam if the governor resigned, was accused last week of sexual assault by a former colleague at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004. Fairfax strongly denied the charges made by Vanessa Tyson, a political science professor at Scripps College in California.
Lawyers for Fairfax's second accuser, Meredith Watson, released a statement days later saying Fairfax raped her while they were students at Duke University in 2000. Watson said she would be willing to testify at an impeachment hearing.
Despite the calls for his resignation, only Hope has pledged to seek impeachment. Hope is a fifth-term delegate from Arlington, among the most liberal districts in the state. Hope, a health care lawyer and a married father of three, said, "As the father of three young girls, I cannot stand by silently."
There are only two weeks left in the legislative session and the governor is also battling to keep his job, so it was not clear how far Hope's impeachment push would go.
The accusations against Fairfax came to light days after a photo surfaced from Northam's page in a 1984 medical school yearbook showing a man in blackface standing by a man dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam at first admitted he was in the photo, then denied it but acknowledged using blackface in impersonating Michael Jackson in a dance contest that same year.
Northam has refused widespread calls for his resignation. A poll by The Washington Post and the Schar School at George Mason University suggested that 47 percent of Virginians want Northam to resign, and 47 percent say he should remain in office.
In his first interview since the scandal erupted, Northam told The Post on Saturday that he had "overreacted" by putting out a statement taking blame for the picture. He said Eastern Virginia Medical School is doing an “independent investigation” into the picture.
Northam said he wanted to focus the rest of his term on racial equality.
'Horrific week in Virginia': Gov. Ralph Northam takes on blackface scandal in first interview
"This has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia," he told The Post. "It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”
Shortly after the first accusation against Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, 57, a Democrat, volunteered that he had appeared in blackface at a party at the University of Virginia in the 1980s.
Contributing: Doug Stanglin; Christal Hayes
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax could face articles of impeachment Monday