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Virginia's lone black statewide official sits out Robert E. Lee tribute

RICHMOND, VA - JAN 18: Virginia Lt Governor Justin Fairfax (D) stepped off the rostrum in the Virginia Senate as a member paid tribute to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee January 18, 2019, in Richmond, Virginia. (Laura Vozzella/TWP)

By Laura Vozzella January 18 at 3:05 PM
RICHMOND — Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, only the second African American elected to statewide office in Virginia, briefly bowed out of his duties in the state Senate on Friday in protest of a tribute to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Fairfax (D), who normally presides over Richmond’s upper chamber, stepped off the dais and let a Republican wield the gavel while Sen. Richard Stuart (R-King George) marked Lee’s 212th birthday with praise for “a great Virginian and a great American.”

“I believe there are certain people in history we should honor that way in the Senate . . . and I don’t believe that he is one of them,” Fairfax, a descendant of slaves, said in an interview afterward. “I think it’s very divisive to do what was done there, particularly in light of the history that we’re now commemorating — 400 years since the first enslaved Africans came to the commonwealth of Virginia.


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Backstage, Senator Kamala Harris smiled and exhaled, appearing both excited and relieved.

Harris had just successfully navigated 12 minutes of being interviewed by Stephen Colbert, an experience that mixes goofy comedy with sudden downdrafts of pointed questioning, all in front of a live audience of 400 and a half-dozen cameras that will beam the conversation to millions more Late Show viewers. She had been bracingly blunt in declaring that Paul Manafort is guilty of conspiring with the Russians to interfere with the 2016 election (“What more do we need to know?”) and had issued a perhaps overly optimistic guarantee about how the government shutdown will end (“It does not end with a wall”).

Harris had managed to work in her somewhat clunky catchphrase (“If it’s worth fighting for, it’s a fight worth having”) and to tease the official announcement of her presidential run (“I might!”). Judging by the raucous cheers of the studio crowd, Harris already had a few believers. But immediately afterward, the senator seemed most proud of having gotten a laugh out of Colbert, a moment that happened after the TV cameras shut down.

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