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If Fairfax Resigns, What Happens to the Lt. Governor Post?

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

So far, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is resisting calls for him to step down. But what happens if he resigns?

The last time that Virginia had a vacancy in the role of Lieutenant Governor was back in 1971, when 34-year-old Sargeant Reynolds died of a brain tumor. At that time the Senate majority leader presided over the Senate until a special election was conducted five months later. But Reynolds died before the new 1971 Constitution took effect.

So Virginia has no real precedent for filling the job under the current rules.

Virginia legal expert Rich Kelsey says the current Constitution is clear. “It is rock solid — not subject to interpretation — the Governor gets to make the appointment, and that appointee serves until the next general election.” That’s the next general election for Lieutenant Governor, says Kelsey, which is in 2021.

That means whoever the governor appoints to the job of Lieutenant Governor will likely serve for more than two years and be first in line to become governor in the event that Ralph Northam decides to step down after all.

Quentin Kidd, a political analyst at Christopher Newport University, says that appointment would be a

significant step out of the current crisis for Democrats. “The best thing for Democrats is that they very quickly replace him with, just being raw political here, with an African American because I just think they would want to settle that issue.”

At the top of the list of names being floated as potential replacements to fill the role of lieutenant governor: state Senator Jennifer McClellan of Richmond.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.