There’s rule on behalf of the people. Then there’s rule by inculcating fear to further your own agenda. Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards knows all about that.
Yesterday, Edwards finally relaxed his grip around the necks of Louisianans more than he had for the past eight months. Vested with the power to issue emergency restrictions as a response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, he said in his next proclamation of these when the current one expires later this week, he would allow higher, although not full, capacity for commercial and social venues, and even would allow bars to reopen. However, a mandatory face covering in public would remain in effect. And, local governments still can have stricter rules.
Edwards said he would loosen things because indicators were trending in the right direction, plus the aggregate number of vaccinations against the virus steadily has increased. He wouldn’t go further, he noted, because new strains of the virus potentially not amenable to current vaccines could attack, and that he would tighten up limits if he felt it necessary.
Yet around the same time, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would wave off all his state’s extant restrictions. Not that these were nearly as onerous as those in Louisiana; since October, many establishments operated at 75 percent capacity with some having none at all (although in some counties that was cut to 50 percent, yet even in those places outdoor activity had no limit), sporting events and bars operated at half, and other indoor gatherings of ten or more were restricted unless city or county officials certified they could take place.
Texas did have a mask mandate from July, but many counties met the criteria for opting out of it and the Abbott order imposing it essentially mooted any penalties from not following it, so masks weren’t widely used. And, Abbott also barred local governments from inflicting tougher restrictions than his way back in April.
In short, throughout the past year Texas has had far fewer restrictions on commerce and public behavior. And the results? From April through September – not capturing the loosening Texas experienced in the year’s last quarter – its private sector economy shrank only 4.4 percent, compared to Louisiana’s 4.9 percent. In human terms, 2,071 Louisianans per million have died from the virus, while only 1,483 Texans per million have.
Abbott’s way was better than Edwards’. Despite that, while Abbott has removed his boot resting gently on the necks of Texans, Edwards only eased up slightly so his boot now chokes Louisianans just a little less. He justifies this, again, as the virus might come back with a vengeance – even though Abbott, reviewing the same data, came to a different conclusion as to the appropriateness of that strategy, and with a record of his judgment being better than Edwards’ on this matter.
Mississippi GOP Gov. Tate Reeves concurred with Abbott for the most part. Standards he imposed since the end of September were somewhat more onerous than Abbott’s although much less than Edwards’ and his allowed local governments to have tighter standards. He joined Abbott by tossing those yesterday around the same time. Mississippi did better than both economically, posting just a 3.4 percent decline, although deaths per million slightly exceeded Louisiana’s at 2,245.
Thus, Edwards must have a different motivation to continue with an overly strict approach, and politics explains why. In Texas, with Republicans having healthy majorities in the statehouse and aligned with Abbott on most issues, they largely pursue the same policy goals. The same applies with Reeves in Mississippi.
But Edwards faces a Louisiana Legislature with a healthy GOP majority at which much of his policy preferences are at odds. Keeping an emergency going not only enhances his personal power, but also creates for him a talking point to endorse larger and more powerful government, against most Republicans' wishes.
Notice how he has tried to set things up to extend this as long as possible, by disseminating the idea that virus mutations with little warning can produce epidemiological chaos. The Spanish influenza virus still has its variants circulating the globe more than a century later. According to Edwards, the coronavirus will continue to threaten for years – well, at least until the middle of January, 2023, anyway.
This madness has to stop. Stoking fear isn’t leadership, and it certainly isn’t best for Louisianans. Edwards must stop this unnecessary crisis extension and serve the people’s interests, not his.