It has been nearly four months since calls began for Governor Ralph Northam to resign in the wake of the now infamous “blackface scandal” that rocked his administration.
But the Democratic Governor has so far refused all calls to step down.
And now, Northam’s administration is announcing the hiring of a new “Diversity and Inclusion Officer” as the embattled Governor tries to move past the scandal.
Governor Ralph Northam will look for the first Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion officer to guide him through his time left in office.
Clark Mercer, Northam’s Chief of Staff, told the Virginia Asian Advisory Board Thursday that the administration is planning on putting the job out soon. It will be one of a few similar state-level positions in America.
The members of the General Assembly received the job description on Friday, which includes responsibility to “develop a sustainable framework for the continued promotion of inclusive practices across Virginia state government [and] to develop a measurable, strategic plan to identify and address systemic inequities in formal and informal policies and practices within Virginia government.”
One of the missions of the future upper-level staff member will be to assist Northam in finding the best ways to handle racial inequity. This is a topic he has doubled-down on since a picture of two men wearing blackface and a Ku Klux Klan outfit was found on his medical school yearbook page. Northam denies being in the costume but has admitted to another instance of wearing blackface.
“Obviously, February was a difficult month for the Governor and his family, his administration, all the folks that serve his administration on boards, and Virginians in general,” Mercer stated to the Asian Advisory Board. “It was also quite an eye-opener for the Governor in terms of stepping back and listening and learning. The Governor has a lot of listening and learning to do.”
The new spot is fully allocated for through the end of Northam’s time in office with money given to the Governor’s office, said Mercer. In order for it to become a permeant position that extends past Northam’s term, the General Assembly would need to codify it with a law outlining the position and then providing funds for it in the budget.
Mercer said the future government worker will have a position that keeps the state in line with diverse hiring and retention practices to assist conversations between state groups and organizations to meet inequities.
“If we’re going to be talking about the importance of diversity and inclusion, we need to practice that in our business practices,” Mercer said.
Mercer said Northam has long worked on the issue of inequity, but his attempts have commonly been “thwarted by the majority.”
Presently, the administration has put examining procurement practices of small, female and minority owned businesses to the forefront. During the reconvened General Assembly, Northam attempted to put in budget amendments to help get those businesses more state contracts. Republican lawmakers wanted to halt that until an audit of the state department that takes care of those contracts was finished.
Mercer said that maternal mortality rates among women of color was a focal point for Northam.
The General Assembly recently approved a bill from Republican Delegate Roxann Robinson of Chesterfield mandating the Department of Health to review the rate of pregnancy-related deaths in Virginia.
Besides that, said Mercer, the new diversity and inclusion officer would assist the administration in any other areas in need of work.
“We don’t have all the answers, and we need some help,“ he said.