Thursday, September 24, 2020
Sept. 24, 2020

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Camden: Rhetoric on order, reality at odds


Opponents of Gov. Jay Inslee — several of whom can be found on your primary ballot — like to denounce in the harshest terms his emergency orders.

The orders that close certain businesses and restrict the number of people at a gathering are described as obvious authoritarian infringements on constitutional rights. They are said to be enforced by jack-booted storm troopers.

But a case involving Slidewaters, a Chelan County water park, demonstrates the opposite.

Slidewaters was among nonessential businesses ordered to close in the original emergency order. It sought permission to open with its own “Clean & Safe Plan” at half-capacity. While the county health district initially said OK, the state said no way.

With the help of the Freedom Foundation, which likes to champion conservative causes, the park filed a lawsuit.

“It has become obvious to everyone but Jay Inslee that Washingtonians no longer need to live in a protective bubble,” foundation attorney Sydney Phillips said in announcing the lawsuit in early June.

In mid-June, U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice denied the water park’s request for a temporary restraining order.

“Clearly an illegal power grab,” Phillips said of the emergency order. “A defeat for common sense and the rights of entrepreneurs to make a living,” she said of the ruling.

The water park appealed, asked for a preliminary injunction and opened while lawyers for the foundation and state jousted with legal briefs and motions. Last week, Rice denied the request for a preliminary injunction, and essentially said don’t bother coming back for a permanent injunction.

The foundation appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court. “The court was willing to give dictatorial powers to the governor at the expense of the rights of Washington citizens,” Foundation Vice President Ashley Varner wrote in an email.

In the month since the water park opened, the Department of Labor & Industries notified operators they were in violation. The department sent a letter on June 29 telling them to cease operations. On July 9, inspectors visited the park and confirmed it was still open, although they weren’t allowed in.

On Thursday, they delivered a “notice of immediate restraint,” which tells the water park to close until the county moves to Phase 3. That notice comes with a fine of slightly more than $9,600.

On Friday co-owners Burke and Robert Bordner said the park will close this week.

“We pray that our story will be a cautionary tale against Big Government and over-reaching politicians preaching the need for a Utopian society in which respect for others, hard work and caring for your neighbor are no longer the responsibility of the citizens, but taken on as the duty of the controlling government,” they said in an email.

One can argue the owners of Slidewaters may have good cause to think the shutdown order was too harsh when they opened in mid-June. The week ending May 31, the county had only six COVID-19 cases. But as the summer progressed, Chelan cases rose to 106 the last week of June and 83 the first week of July.

That’s not to suggest the water park is responsible for any cases. But it is an indicator that health officials who are advising Inslee have reason to be cautious.

The water park may win on appeal. But Varner’s complaint about “dictatorial powers” suffers from a lack of understanding of what dictators do.

They wouldn’t wait for a judge’s decision. Their agencies wouldn’t allow a business to refuse them entrance, send a letter and later a notice of fines. They’d give one warning  then arrive with handcuffs for the owners and chains and padlocks for the gates.

That’s not what Slidewaters deserves. A reasonable case could be made for the fine to be reduced or waived through negotiation. But heated rhetoric that may allow some folks to blow off steam and others to burnish their conservative cred can be a barrier to cool, reasoned discussions.