Governor Tate Reeves has drawn criticism almost exclusively from those in the opposing party for his reluctance to issue a statewide “stay at home” or “shelter in place” order as Mississippi deals with the coronavirus, choosing instead to set a floor for expectations and allowing local mayors and city councils to act as they feel is necessary based on what is in their best interest locally.
Tweets such as these from former state representatives and failed Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate Jay Hughes are making their way around social media.
— Jay Hughes (@Jay4Mississippi) March 31, 2020
Reeves has said he would issue such orders when advised to do so by medical professionals but if he does it would be limited to those areas where outbreaks or spikes in cases were evident as indicated by verifiable data, in essence quarantining clusters. He did just that Tuesday morning for Lauderdale County, noting it would likely not be the last.
Even CDC officials agree that a monthlong-plus total lockdown of society, which some are publicly clamoring for, is not the right prescription for the COVID-19 problem.
The Governor has also taken hits in the local and national partisan media over his definition of “essential” businesses and services, with critics saying it allows too many sectors and services to remain open as locals try to impose social distancing restrictions.
The calls for the Governor to use his executive authority to “close it down” have largely come from areas with Democrats mayors – Jackson, Moss Point, Oxford, and Tupelo, just to name a few. Yes, there are Republicans calling for such action but not to the same level or with the same fervor as that of Democrat mayors in these locales.
What is evident, however, is the self-contradiction and exaggerations the Governor’s critics employ to gain media attention and eschew responsibility.
Take Moss Point Mayor Mario King, as an example.
King took to his LinkedIn to share an article where he calls Reeves’ actions “foolishness” and proclaims, “I am so sick and tired of partisan politics interfering with our progress. Today we sit at #1 for COVID-19 cases. Nevertheless, we have elected leadership not acting, good ole boy system is working hard, and people are still dying 100s a day.”
First, the Governor’s actions he calls “foolishness” was a misunderstanding that had already been clarified to local officials and the public in a subsequent executive order where Reeves made it known that no local precautionary measures were being overruled while ensuring essential businesses remained open.
Second, Moss Point nor Jackson County are “#1 for COVID-19 cases” in the state per the Mississippi Department of Health’s daily county charting.
Third, people in Mississippi are not “dying 100s a day.” The state has reported a total of 20 deaths as of this article.
King then sent Governor Reeves a letter on Monday (below) saying his executive orders have “a direct and negative impact on my community.”
“Your EO directly interferes with the ability of municipal elected officials’ statutory duties and commitments, including but not limited to the governing authorities’ ability to restrict businesses that it does not deem “essential”, religious organizations, and specifically daycares,” King writes.
The Governor’s order did allow religious organizations to operate “provided that they adhere to the CDC and the Mississippi Department of Health recommendations and guidance…”
As with any governmental action, it is up to the public to comply or face enforcement action, whether that means state or local law enforcement. The question here is if Mayor King is willing to test the free exercise of religion and sincerely held religious beliefs in his local enforcement and embroil his city in what would be an instant and costly lawsuit.
As for daycare facilities, the order allows child care programs to remain open due to the services necessary “to ensure the continuing operation of Essential Business or Operation, operation of government agencies, and to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the public.”
The low level argument could be made that if schools are closed, so too should child care facilities but in real, practical terms, without child care options, adults from medical professionals to emergency workers will be forced to stay home, limiting the ability for the local and state government to respond to the coronavirus.
In fact, on the same day King sent this letter, the Democrats in the Mississippi House of Representatives called on the Governor to establish emergency childcare assistance programs.
“Governor, we ask that you direct your DHS establish emergency childcare assistance programs to health care sector employees, emergency responders, sanitation workers, and other workers deemed essential during the response to COVID-19,” House Democrats wrote in their letter. “In addition, your administration should continue payments and assistance to childcare providers in the case of decreased enrollment or closures related to COVID-19. These are small businesses with small margins. Workers are going to need them when our economy reopens. Essential employees need them now.”
So which is it? Should the Governor expand child care programs or allow them to be listed as non-essential, allowing local governments to close them down like Mayor King is requesting?
“As local leaders, we are on the frontline daily and know and understand our communities’ needs. As such, it is imperative that we can define essential businesses how we see fit,” King goes on to tell Reeves in his letter.
You see, on one hand Mayor King wants to define parameters “as he sees fit” but on the other he wants the Governor to control every aspect of this response and “shut down the state,” as he told WLOX.
Such grandstanding is not productive when played out in the media. It only divides and confuses the public. If unity in purpose and outcome is truly the goal, such matters would be handled differently when there is a conflict between individuals in leadership – especially in times such as these.
Mayor King did not respond to a request for comment at press time.
However, Moss Point Alderman Wayne Lennep did speak with Y’all Politics. He says his Mayor’s comments are not productive and recognizes the issues such antics cause.
“I believe that our Governor has our best interest in mind and is a good leader,” Lennep told Y’all Politics. “I do not think it is helpful to publicly attack or criticize him or any leaders when there are disagreements on how to manage this or any crisis. Although I try to maintain good working relationships with all local leaders, including my own mayor, and I have, I did not think it was profitable nor wise for the mayor to go to the media and publicly criticize Governor Reeves. It seemed disrespectful, and it damages a relationship that is very important to us as a city.”
Lennep says he spoke personally to every one of his fellow city board members, and they all agreed that the Mayor should not have publicly criticized the Governor.
“The best way to resolve differences is through mature, respectful individual dialog,” Lennep added. “I realize there are differing opinions on how to approach this disaster and how restrictive we should be. But I also believe and have learned that it is far better to address differences directly, person to person, rather than for one official to attack another in the press or on social media.”
Former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is noted for saying “never let a crisis go to waste.” Unfortunately, it seems mayors, legislators and former elected officials like Ray Mabus are trying to score public political points rather than working with a Governor and state officials who, like them, are in uncharted territory, trying to balance the needs of the many with that of what is legal, practical and realistic.