If there’s any politician in these United States who ought to be especially careful at the moment, it’s Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
Northam is mere months removed from a blackface scandal that he somehow survived, probably because the second in line to the governor was accused of sexual assault and the third in line also had donned blackface at one point in his time upon this earth.
I understand that whatever political aspirations Northam had probably ended there. However, whatever redemption Northam was to have would have come, first and foremost, through an abundance of caution.
Statements would have to be carefully worded. Endorsements considered as thoroughly as possible. Appointees vetted with a magnifying glass.
Has he done that? Well, we’re talking about him again, so you can already guess the answer.
Northam appointed Gail Gorden Donegan, a corporate lawyer and Democratic activist, to the Virginia Council on Women — a group that advises members of Virginia’s government on women’s issues as well as developing programming for the commonwealth and awarding scholarships — on Aug. 16.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Donegan has posted lewd and derogatory comments about Catholics and priests on Twitter.
It’s worth noting she also found plenty of other people and groups to offend on social media, too, and all across the political spectrum — from liberal academic Cornel West to the Boy Scouts, no one was safe from her obnoxious and vulgar comments.
Apparently, the governor’s office didn’t check her Twitter account, where she posts as “Satirical Alexandria — Rated Fx by the NRA.” It’s not as if she was hiding who she was, though: The Times-Dispatch notes that her tweets included photos of herself at liberal events and with Democrat luminaries like former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Tim Kaine.
While she has plenty of awful things to say about pretty much everyone, she seems to have a special loathing for Catholics.
“Abortion is morally indefensible to Catholic priests bcuz it results in fewer children to rape,” one tweet from 2010 read.
Another 2010 tweet: “Saw a bumper sticker: ‘You can’t be both Catholic & Pro-Choice.’ Add: You can be a pedophile though!”
In case you needed reminding, Northam’s problems began with similar comments when he insinuated in January that he supports infanticide in some instances. That prompted a re-examination of Northam’s past, which dragged out Northam’s medical school yearbook that showed a photo of a man in blackface and another man dressed as a Klansman.
But Donegan’s tweets about Catholics go further than abortion. A 2010 retweet: Christmas is “the one time of year the Catholic Church is allowed to focus on a little boy.”
In 2011, she said that “Go tell a Catholic they have dirt on their forehead,” appended with the hashtag #waystooffend. One assumes she’s referring to Ash Wednesday when Catholics receive ashes in the sign of the cross on their forehead.
Another Christmas favorite, this time a response to a story about how New York Catholics had been exposed to hepatitis A by taking communion on the holiday: “LOLz.”
A 2013 joke tweeted to two state Republicans — including current Trump administration official Ken Cuccinelli, who is Catholic — “Dr, lawyer & priest on Titantic [sic]. Doc: save the children! lawyer: f— the children! Priest: Is there time?”
Just in case you think the Times-Dispatch was dredging up old stuff here, she repeated it in 2018 and said it was “my fave joke.”
Mind you, she hates plenty of people and traffics in conspiracy theories. Take this one from 2017: “The 1st DNC hack was by Sander’s [sic] team. If you are one of the dips—s who supported Sanders, die dumb and angry. You f—ed us all over.”
Another tweet said that “Bernie Sanders and his s—head followers need to f— the f— off.” The Times-Dispatch adds she apparently told Sanders and his supporters to “f— off” with relative frequency.
She’s got range, this Donegan. A 2010 tweet to Democrat Sen. Mark Warner: “F— YOU!” Cornel West got an “f— you and die” as well as a “s—head.” Former Republican Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock also got a “s—head.”
Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones, meanwhile, got an “F— off, eat s—, and crawl back to hell.”
When she was contacted about her tweets on Thursday, Donegan’s response was initially unapologetic.
“Psychological studies show that people who swear make better friends,” she told the paper via email. “And they’re smarter.”
Right. I understand it takes a fair amount of intelligence to become a corporate attorney, especially a successful one. That all being said, I have a hard time believing I’m dealing with a Mensa member when this post seems to be the intellectual mean of their social media repartee: “Bernie Sanders and his s—head followers need to f— the f— off.”
On Friday, she decided that maybe “sorry not sorry, also I’m really smart because I swear a lot” didn’t really pass muster as an excuse when considering the fact that she’d frequently denigrated an entire religious group.
“I will say for the record that my father was severely beaten in Catholic foster homes and I am an atheist. My father was orphaned at age 4, sent to live in Catholic foster homes and severely beaten until he ran away at age 14,” she said during a phone call with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“My husband is an ex-Catholic and he’s not offended by my tweets,” she added.
So the first part makes it OK for her to denigrate all Catholics, and the second part means what she said wasn’t that offensive because her husband is a former Catholic and he’s not offended. She declined further comment.
As for Northam’s office, here’s a surprise: They disapprove of what she did, but they’re not going to remove her or anything like that, at least not now.
Donegan, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in an email, “has spent years advocating on behalf of issues important to women across the Commonwealth.”
“The governor certainly does not condone this language,” she said.
Just don’t expect Northam to do anything about it: “Asked if the governor still believes Donegan is the most qualified person for the appointment, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky did not answer,” the Times-Dispatch reported.
Virginia Catholics weren’t impressed.
“Governor Northam’s appointment of Gail Gordon Donegan to the Virginia Council on Women is disappointing, particularly given her documented use of social media to offend members of the Catholic faith,” Billy Atwell, chief communications officer for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, said.
“Ms. Gordon Donegan has a record of ridiculing Catholic beliefs and practices and trafficking in stereotypes that would disqualify her from this role had they targeted any other category of persons. Her statements are offensive to human dignity and fail to reflect the depth of character one would expect of a leader in our Commonwealth.”
Meanwhile, Deborah Cox of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond said the comments “are extremely offensive to Catholics and the Catholic faith. … We would expect anyone appointed to a council or commission for the Commonwealth to be respectful of all faith groups and civil in his or her public comments — including social media — given their status as a representative of the Commonwealth, appointed by the governor.”
I understand that Gov. Northam’s office appoints 900 people to positions like this every year. That being said, this sort of thing wasn’t difficult to discover.
Then again, it’s worth noting what it says on the secretary of the commonwealth’s webpage about appointments to these committees: While serving “on a board or commission is both an honor and a privilege,” applicants “in an open and democratic government, the activities of boards and commissions are subject to public and press scrutiny.”
The same could be said about the governor’s office, however, and we know how closely that standard been followed.
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