Despite threats, pleas, and entreaties from senators and citizens, Democrats and Republicans, former governors and most of the General Assembly, Ralph Northam remains Virginia’s chief executive — at least the last time we checked. And it appears, according to the law, that might not change anytime soon.

The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, a relentlessly reliable source when it comes to the commonwealth’s politics, has opined that in Virginia “you can’t force a Governor to resign if he doesn’t want to.” Since Northam’s actions took place decades before he became governor, Sabato added, the impeachment criteria in the state constitution “don’t seem to apply” and a provision for removing a disabled governor “certainly doesn’t.”

So the decision whether to stay or go appears to rest primarily in the hands of Ralph Northam. The Times-Dispatch Editorial Page called for his resignation after he apologized Friday night for appearing in a photograph in which he wore either blackface or KKK robes. We also noted his troubling remarks about late-term abortion late last week.

The governor’s rambling, disjointed press conference on Saturday — in which he retracted the admission that he was in the offensive photo, but admitted to appearing in blackface on another occasion in 1984 — did nothing to reverse our belief that he has lost the ability to effectively serve the commonwealth. The public calls for him to step down from Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner — both former governors — along with those from Reps. Bobby Scott and Donald McEachin, reinforce our conviction.

It is time for Northam to resume his life in the private sector. Every moment he continues to cling to power diminishes his reputation, credibility, and otherwise impressive record of service to country and commonwealth. His attempts to save his career suggest a growing sense of desperation. He is wrong, for instance, when he implies that many Virginians in 1984 did not understand how appalling it is to dress in blackface. Most of his contemporaries know — and knew — better. He should have too.

We bear no animus toward the governor. But for the good of his state, he must return his high office to the people. He has lost their confidence.

The above editorial was published Feb. 4 by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Its views are its own.

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