Democracy is the loser

op-ed column
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Democracy is the loser in our COVID-19 shutdown battle, according to this Op-Ed piece courtesy of The Center Square.

By Wayne Campbell for The Center Square

Here is what led to the current fight between the Republican-led General Assembly and our Democratic governor as to which businesses can reopen.

The first reason is obvious. Businesses classified as “life-sustaining’ got a lifeline. Those who were shut down did not. Independent of medical judgment as to which businesses would aid the spread of coronavirus, there are business winners and losers.

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Rural Pennsylvania took the brunt of business closures. Closing an auto dealer, a gardening center or a small mom and pop store is a big deal to a rural community. Farmers took a big hit when closing restaurants led to dumping of milk, eggs, and vegetables.

The criteria by which basic shutdown or waiver decisions were made was and still is clothed in darkness.

How did “they” make their decisions? For example, why were Realtors closed in Pennsylvania and not in any other state? Why were the big box stores allowed to keep their retail sales of non-food items going while traditional department stores like Pennsylvania-owned Boscov’s were forced to shutter their doors? Why were coal mining and gun shops first declared to be nonessential and then suddenly reclassified as “life-sustaining”? Why is a small mom and pop store in ruralPennsylvania that may have fewer than 20 customers a day and can easily employ CDC guidelines forced to remain closed and now faces bankruptcy?

Who is spared the ax, and why?

Landscaping retail companies were closed, but while going to the store, I saw landscape and lawn mowing services busy at work. How did some of them get waivers and others not? Until they were finally shut down, big box stores’ gardening/lawn care departments were doing a brisk business, but the independents were closed.

I reviewed the list of firms that received waivers released by the governor and counted almost 40 firms in a single county whose company names reflected construction activity. How were they spared the ax?

In other words, the process seemed arbitrary, with some businesses saved financially and others not. Who made those decisions? Who knows? When methodology for these decisions is hidden, people will see exceptions to the supposed rules and wonder if the decision is political.

We saw a backlash even from members of the governor’s own political party given bipartisan votes in the House to reopen certain types of businesses.

In defense of the governor, he had to do something quickly and quick decisions simply had to be made. However, the best public policy is one that is thought through and where everyone believes that there are consistent criteria for making these decisions.

Here is the real tragedy. Lack of transparency has made people even more skeptical of our government at a time when people must trust that officials have everyone’s best interest at heart. Credibility is at the heart of our democratic system. In Pennsylvania’s case, that was lost.

Wayne Campbell is president of the Pennsylvania State Grange

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