“I was surprised, but I wasn’t shocked.”
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) was talking about the shameful xenophobic scare tactics used by the Republican gubernatorial candidate last November. And he wasn’t surprised by the election results. “People may have mislearned the lessons of 2016 and thought that that kind of politics was the kind of politics that you needed to win,” Fairfax told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up” recorded in a conference room in his suite of offices in the shadow of the State Capitol in Richmond. “Virginia rejected that kind of politics in 2016. They tremendously rejected it in 2017.”
Because of that tremendous rejection, Old Dominion voters made Fairfax only the second African American in Virginia’s history to be elected statewide. “Virginia, in so many ways, is a microcosm for the entire country,” Fairfax said. “It’s the home of American slavery, but also the place that elected the first African American to be governor.” He was referring to his political mentor, L. Douglas Wilder, the first African American elected governor in the United States in 1989, who previously served as lieutenant governor.
Fairfax’s historic victory took on an added significance on his Inauguration Day when his father handed him a piece of paper and insisted the incoming lieutenant governor have it on his person. It was a copy of the document that freed his great-great-great grandfather Simon Fairfax and was signed by the ninth Lord Fairfax in 1798. “I had that manumission document in my breast pocket at the precise moment that I raised my right hand to take the oath of office as lieutenant governor,” Fairfax said. It “really reminded me of how powerful that journey has been, not just for my family, not just for Virginia, but for this entire country.”
Listen to the podcast to hear more from Fairfax. He talks about the advice Wilder gave him. “Just have one message for everybody,” the former governor told him. Fairfax discussed the importance of spiritual wealth. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had faith,” he said. “We had hope. We had optimism.” Opining on the impact of Charlottesville. Fairfax said, “I was proud of all the people who spoke up with moral courage to condemn the hatred.” And you have to hear how Fairfax links last year’s solar eclipse with the current actions of President Trump.
“When you look at what Donald Trump has just tried to do in terms of eclipsing all the accomplishments and the progress that President Barack Obama and others fought for and have won, that’s really what we’re living through,” Fairfax said. “Unlike a naturally occurring eclipse, where all you have to do is stand back and look at it for a few minutes with your glasses, for political eclipse, you actually got to fight to make sure that it changes.”