Leaders of our society are held to higher standards of conduct than the general population due to their positions of leadership or responsibility for the lives of others. Members of the military, police, and our elected officials quickly come to mind.

Along with great responsibility comes accountability for one’s personal conduct and actions. Leadership, responsibility and accountability are inexorably tied together. In our democracy, a leader chooses voluntarily to occupy this special position of trust in our society, which requires the very highest standards of personal conduct – without excuses.

Unfortunately in the Commonwealth of Virginia, both the governor and attorney general have committed unacceptable behavior that is repulsive and inexcusable regardless of the social norms at the time of occurrence. Both admitted to doing so only under political duress and did not disclose these incidents prior to assuming office. In doing so, they betrayed our trust and should not have run for public office in the first place, knowing that their past actions would eventually come to light.

Yes, they have apologized. But despite calls for resignation, they seem to have outlasted the news cycle and intend to remain in office in an effort to outrun their infamy. These are elected officials, obligated to serve at a higher moral standard – and who should set the standard for us to emulate.

Our lieutenant governor has been accused of sexual misconduct prior to assuming office. If these allegations are substantiated, he has violated our trust, should be held accountable and is unfit to lead. Let’s be clear – we do not know if he is innocent or guilty of the alleged offenses, but he has lost the confidence of many of those whom he serves. Pending the official testimony of his accusers, we should withhold judgment; but in many institutions where trust is the highest currency (both in the military and in the private sector), a loss of confidence in a leader’s ability to lead is grounds for removal.

We are setting a dangerous precedent by condoning “free rides” for selected government officials. All three of these men took an oath of office, vowing to serve the interests of the commonwealth and Virginians before their own self-interest.

The governor’s grudging apology and promise to improve race relations is not good enough. In good conscience, both the governor and attorney general should step aside now and acknowledge that they have lost our confidence in their leadership, violated our special trust, and do not deserve to represent the great Commonwealth of Virginia.

At the end of the day, character matters. Unfortunately our governor and attorney general have proven they do not have the character to lead. It is past time for them to cede the field to more trustworthy people.

James R. Poplar III is a Quicksburg resident.