Tuesday, April 7, 2020
April 7, 2020

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Camden: Eyman reaching about overreach

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Politics, like so much else in life, changes in the time of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Almost every notice from a campaign or elected official starts with some reference to COVID-19. Some talk about what they’re doing in the city, county, state or nation to fight it. Others talk about what the city, county, state or nation should be doing to fight it, but isn’t.

And then there’s Tim Eyman, longtime initiative promoter and among the current Republican hopefuls for governor. Two weekends ago, after his putative opponent Gov. Jay Inslee had issued an order banning gatherings of more than 250 people in an early effort to stop the spread of the virus, Eyman offered a bit of counterprogramming.

“Let’s stick our finger in the eye of Jay Inslee,” he said in an email announcing a meet-and-greet gathering in Oak Harbor, asking for 251 people to show up.

“I’m bringing a 6-pack of Corona,” he added. Eyman apparently shares a political consultant — or a joke writer, not clear which — with U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who has taken to calling it “the beer virus” Which is arguably better than calling it “the China virus” and definitely better than “the Kung Flu.” But let’s face it, Corona beer comes from Mexico, so the laughs on all of this would be no more than a polite chuckle or perhaps an embarrassed groan.

News accounts of the rally showed they didn’t get anywhere near the 251 target.

The day after the gathering, Eyman said his event was designed to “provoke a needed debate” over the government’s reaction to the coronavirus. He defended it in fairly demagogic terms, calling up the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Hollywood’s “black list.”

Eyman’s contention that government can overreach in times of crisis may be well taken, but the jump to say Inslee is overreaching isn’t so well backed up. The state has not ordered “the end of political discourse (or) the suspension of worship.” Clearly, he’s able to connect with the “thousands of supporters” to whom he sends his email missives seeking donations, and church leaders made decisions to cancel services.

He suggests government urge people to do certain things, but not require them, which sounds great in a libertarian daydream until one starts to apply it to other things the government requires people to do that inhibits their free will, requiring they be a certain age to buy alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, stop at stop signs, or not drive 120 mph on the interstate.

State and local governments are enforcing the limits with moral persuasion, not jackbooted troops, which he might’ve learned if his meet and greet had come close to 250 people. People who don’t wash their hands for two verses of “Happy Birthday” aren’t sent to a re-education camp.

Eyman is predicting that the effects of the shutdown of many businesses as a result of Inslee’s emergency orders are “making a bad situation exponentially worse … working class folks are being decimated.” But the government which he rails against is putting into place programs to help individuals and businesses, quicker unemployment benefits, grants and delays or deferrals on some taxes. The Legislature on near-unanimous bipartisan votes set aside $200 million for the coronavirus response, and Inslee has said repeatedly he’ll call them back if that’s not enough.

The federal government at the time was moving aid packages with more speed and slightly less partisan bickering than usual. Will they be enough? Not likely, but it’s a sign government is prepared to help.

One has to wonder what laissez-faire steps Eyman would take, should lightning strike and he find himself in the governor’s office and COVID-19 makes a comeback the way Spanish Flu did a century ago. Maybe he could let bars, restaurants, concerts and theaters make their own decisions that could affect the health of the public and their employees — at least until there’s not enough public well enough to make it worth their while to stay open.

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