Editorial Roundup: COVID-19: Politics and pandemic don’t mix

Published 10:48 pm Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A reflective Gov. Tim Walz recently observed an uncomfortable truth: messy democracy may not be the best defense against a pandemic.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Star Tribune, Walz said the partisan politics surrounding his management of the COVID crisis through emergency orders was extreme and may now be even more so.

As a result, he said, Minnesotans must learn to live safely under what are likely to be recurring bouts of the pandemic. He said it was time to let the Legislature — mostly the Republican Senate — take the lead in managing the crisis. He agreed to relinquish his emergency powers earlier this year as part of a hard-fought budget agreement with Senate Republicans.

He said he isn’t likely to try to reinstate emergency powers, saying the partisanship that would arise would be “counterproductive.” It’s a sad but likely true state of affairs. But he also suggested that maybe the legislative body that so wanted more say in the emergency powers should’ve have been more careful what they asked for.

“It appears like there’s a lot of silence out of a lot of folks in the Legislature because now it’s on them,” Walz told the Star Tribune.

And Minnesota isn’t the only state facing the loss of a strong executive managing the biggest public health crisis in recent memory. The Kentucky Supreme Court recently ruled Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers were not consistent with Kentucky law and the powers were taken away. The Republican Legislature will now be in charge of dealing with over-capacity hospitals and rampant transmission of the dealt variation of COVID.

Republicans legislators in that state seemed quick to say they would work with the governor, but the jury remains out.

And of course, governors in places like Florida, Texas and South Dakota, where populations are severely susceptible to COVID, reject emergency powers and in fact have taken actions to the opposite, overruling local governments that want to implement safety measures like vaccines and mask wearing.

But emergency powers laws were usually put in place by large bipartisan coalitions in states and the federal government. Those powers have not all of sudden become bad policy overnight. But the sensibility of those laws has been taken over by a politics that rejects fact and reason and the shared responsibility of those who would live in a civil society governed by the public good.

The public is at more risk without a governor having emergency powers given the abysmal record of legislatures to accomplish much of anything in partisan times.

Opponents of emergency powers are taking a victory lap that may be interrupted by the harsh reality of another public health emergency, and maybe they will truly understand the risk of getting what you ask for.

— Mankato Free Press, Aug. 27

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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