U.S. governors try to seal off states but forget about Americans’ economic and personal freedoms

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ANALYSIS/OPINION: Governors who have in the past condemned the Trump administration for attempts to restrict immigration to prevent terrorists from entering the country are now themselves banning residents from neighboring states from crossing their borders unless they consent to being quarantined in an attempt to thwart the COVID-19 virus.  Whether […]

Governors who have in the past condemned the Trump administration for attempts to restrict immigration to prevent terrorists from entering the country are now themselves banning residents from neighboring states from crossing their borders unless they consent to being quarantined in an attempt to thwart the COVID-19 virus. 

Whether these quarantines work is open to debate, but one can understand the reluctance of the governor of a state with few cases wondering about the wisdom of letting thousands of people from states like New York, California or Hawaii who have a statistically far higher likelihood of infection into his or her state.

The problem with this approach is that since it is impossible to actually seal off one state from another, the virus usually leaks from one jurisdiction to another. It turns out that the often nonsensical restrictions some governors have imposed within their states have a tendency to do the same thing. 

Thus, we see governors who one might have assumed had more common sense aping the restrictions imposed elsewhere either because they actually think they might work or, as is more likely, they don’t want others to impose harsher restrictions than they allowing their critics to blame them if the rate of infections in their state increases. 

Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee isn’t the only state official who has allowed his imagination to run free as he concocts plans to keep his constituents locked down or “sheltering in place” as they grapple with how to handle, slow or stop the spread of COVID-19, but he is one who seems to relish ordering them about.

He put his novel perspective on display briefly in 2016 as he vied for the Democratic presidential nomination, but found few buyers. In 2018, the CATO Institute named him America’s “worst” governor from among a group that even then included the likes of New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut’s Ned Lamont. This was before the virus wafted its way over from China, but he was already hard at work limiting the freedom of the men and women who had elected him. 

When the virus did arrive on our shores, Mr. Inslee, like other progressive state executives, began dreaming up and imposing restrictions that locked down and wiped out much of his state’s economy while ordering an increasingly fearful citizenry to avoid the outdoors, lock themselves in their homes and, as he and others put it, “shelter in place.”

The governor routinely dismisses his critics as deranged or worse. When asked by a reporter to respond to a report that the number of those who have died in the state as a result of contracting the virus has been overstated by as much as 12-13%, the governor simply said “The problem is you got some people out there who are fanning these conspiracy claims from the planet Pluto.” 

Meanwhile, state health officials were admitting that the rule requiring anyone dying for any reason who has tested positive for the virus be listed as a COVID-19 victim, the Washington State death toll includes at least five people who were shot to death and countless others who may have died “with” rather than “of” the virus. In other states, victims of traffic accidents are being included in the statistics. When queried about a young man killed in a motorcycle accident in Florida, for example, a state health official told a reporter that “you could actually argue that it could have been the COVID-19 that caused him to crash,” but at least he didn’t contend the question had come from Pluto.

The beauty of our federal system is that for every Jay Inslee there is someone like Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson or Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee willing to attack the same problem in ways that aim to preserve economic and personal freedom. In the case of the current pandemic, the effectiveness of these various approaches will be judged so that future policy-makers will be better prepared to handle the next one, but it is already apparent that much has been learned about the relative effectiveness of different approaches.

Still, goofy requirements like the virus itself continue to infect neighboring states. A man in Great Falls, Montana took a door he had purchased to a woodworker to have it prepared for mounting only to be told that before the shop could do any work on it, it would have to be quarantined for at least three days.

“You’re kidding,” he said, but was told it was a rule imposed by the shop’s owners. He came back for some reason a couple of days later to find his door in a corner surrounded by tape and a sign telling customers and workers to keep their distance from it lest they contract the virus. 

The fellow running the shop said he was sorry, but it was an iron-clad rule imposed by the owners who, of course, hail from Seattle.

• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.

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