As I have observed before, the current pandemic has altered our lives in so many ways that hundreds of books will surely be written on the subject. Having covered policy-making for much of my life, I ponder the coronavirus’ long-term implications for the political process.
Of immediate concern, however, is the Connecticut Democratic and Republican presidential primary, which was scheduled for later this month but was postponed to June 2 because of the pandemic. As CTNewsJunkie‘s Christine Stuart has reported, Gov. Ned Lamont is reluctant to cancel the primary, though he has the authority to do so.
President Donald Trump faces token opposition and, with the recent withdrawal of Bernie Sanders from the Democratic contest, Joe Biden is assured of the nomination. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is urging the remaining candidates to withdraw their names from the ballot but Sanders refuses, insisting that he wants to pick up additional delegates to have influence at the party’s rescheduled national convention in August.
Merrill has suggested it would be irresponsible to hold a primary during a pandemic (Wisconsin has tried this) as it would put voters and poll workers at risk of serious illness. Republican State Central Committee Chairman J.R. Romano was already opposed to holding a GOP primary and has argued that cash-strapped towns should not be forced to spend money on a meaningless primary during a pandemic, even if voting by mail is allowed. The chairman is correct. Sanders will probably hate Lamont if he cancels the primary by executive order, but it’s the right thing to do.
Legislature Must Move Forward
Also on my list of how COVID-19 might change the political landscape is the question of how to conduct state business in a time of shutdowns and physical distancing. A lengthy story in Governing, a magazine covering developments in state and local government, took a look at how states are coping.
As the story notes, it makes little sense to put the business of state government on hold. After all, this is when we all need government the most. Indeed, if it is true that there are no atheists in a foxhole, then there are no small-government conservatives during an economic meltdown caused by a pandemic of epic proportions.
Several states, including Connecticut, require legislators to convene physically in order to vote on legislation. While the General Assembly did vote to allow committees to vote remotely, greater latitude is clearly needed because at a time when their constituents are hard-pressed for help, lawmakers can’t really do their jobs at present.
For the first time in state history, lawmakers in New Jersey voted by phone to pass legislation to provide relief to workers affected by the pandemic. Oklahoma and New York also have passed legislation that will allow lawmakers to meet and vote remotely.
The General Assembly’s 2020 session ends on May 6 and the Capitol complex is closed until April 23, so it is running out of time unless the governor and legislative leaders want to call a series of endless special sessions. They need to act sooner rather than later. As my colleague Doug Hardy wrote recently, “Shutting down the General Assembly because you can’t function unless you’re all in the same room is medieval thinking.”
Economic Disaster Impacts Journalists, Too
On the news media front, I’m hoping the pandemic and the resulting loss of advertising doesn’t cause too many small- and medium-sized outlets to fold under the weight of catastrophic losses.
For those that survive and for the new organizations that sprout up later, I retain the hope that news consumers will grow to appreciate the coverage we in the media are providing during this unprecedented public health crisis. Maybe those who like free stuff will even subscribe or become members.
I must confess that I am troubled by some of the media criticism I see on social media suggesting that we are cheering the shutdown and the resulting unemployment lines because we want President Trump to be defeated in November. Fox News host Laura Ingraham laughably claimed that “Some [in the media] think it’s Trump’s downfall, and they are cheering that on.”
And the economic disaster affects all journalists. The bigshot media types all have money in the stock market. The smaller fish such as yours truly have retirement plans tied to the market. I still have my day job for now, even though my company has seen a precipitous drop in advertising. But hey, if we don’t manage to stave off complete ruin, at least Donald Trump will be gone, right?
The idea that anyone in the media would willfully cheer for an economic catastrophe is not only offensive; it’s bizarre to the extreme. I can just hear editors and reporters chanting amid the rustling of pom poms:
“Let’s go, unemployment! Take it away, bankruptcy!”
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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