Over the last 16 months, each one of us has suffered through the endless chaos and uncertainty of COVID-19 and the seemingly endless monarchical restrictions that have affected every facet of our lives. Quite frankly, putting what I’m thinking into words is difficult without getting emotional.
We’ve all borne witness personally in some way: sick and dying loved ones (not just from COVID); economic insecurity; the effect of long-term isolation from family, friends, church and helping each other in time of need; loss of personal freedom; watching individuals and families struggle with job loss or the collapse of their businesses; watching our children wrestle with isolation from school, teachers and friends; and, increased depression, anxiety and suicide ideation.
So it was particularly appalling when the governor, who in responding to Q13 Fox reporter Brandi Kruse’s recent question regarding emergency powers reform, said, “I’m not sure I want to reform a system that won the Super Bowl.”
Perhaps the governor meant his comment to be funny and clever. Instead, his comment was offensive and showed an utter lack of concern and compassion for the life-altering impacts he, by himself, foisted on everyone through his edicts. Just as troubling is that it shows his complete disregard for our constitutional system of governance. Sure, it’s easier to make decisions without answering to a co-equal branch of government, but even in times of emergency, the best outcomes come out of exercising leadership by involving others and not caring who gets the credit.
My intent is not to downplay the tireless efforts and success local health care providers in our communities have had in keeping us safe and minimizing COVID-related loss of life. But we cannot downplay or trivialize the other significant, immediate and long-term effects of the governor’s dictatorial approach that are still crippling individuals and families.
Today, 175,000 fewer people are employed than pre-COVID; job gains today are in large part synonymous with jobs lost last year. Washington, per Yelp.com, had the fifth-highest number of business closures in the country, thousands of which are lost permanently. Washington was the fourth-worst state in the country in in-person instruction during the last school year. Students’ mental health has suffered tremendously. A multi-agency-led COVID-19 survey of students just released found that 68 percent of high schoolers felt they learned less this year than the prior academic year and nearly 60 percent of high schoolers felt sad or depressed most days, with one in five contemplating suicide in the last 12 months. While the report focused on high-school grades, grade-school students struggled with the same feelings. We’ve seen elementary-age children take their own lives.
Many who were unemployed last year waited months to receive unemployment checks, pushing many families to the brink of financial ruin. The loss of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to Nigerian fraudsters isn’t the only Employment Security Department’s incompetence to delay relief. People are still unable to reach the agency to resolve ongoing issues. The process is still not working for the people.
What’s more, drug overdose deaths have increased some 30 percent through the third quarter of 2020 as compared with the same timeframe in the prior year.
While we celebrate the reopening of our state, we should not be spiking the ball. To do so is to imply that all of the suffering that continues is acceptable collateral damage. It also ignores the reality that the state of emergency will continue to at least Sept. 30. That is the effect of the governor’s extension of the eviction moratorium. His one-man show will continue into the fall — something he hasn’t been upfront with the public about.
Can the Legislature end the state of emergency and restore the balance of power? No. Only the governor gets to say when it’s over, and he shows no sign of doing so. He’s too busy patting himself on the back. Republicans, and some Democrats, fought hard for a special session and sponsored multiple bills during the regular session to reform the executive’s powers during a state of emergency.
But the Democrat majority would have none of it. In fact, because Senate Republicans refused to extend certain proclamations, the first thing the majority did during session was to pass legislation that prevented the Legislature from having any oversight over the process.
I’m reminded of the saying, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The governor needs to give up his absolute power and bring the people back into the decision-making process — even those of us who disagree with him.
State Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, serves as the Republican Floor Leader.