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Op-Ed: People Over Politics - Especially in a Pandemic

The following op-ed is written by Covington Mayor Joe Meyer.

As the mayor of Covington, Kentucky’s fifth-largest city, I have a message for public officials trying their best to undercut and demolish the state’s strategic and steady response to COVID-19: A pandemic is no time for partisan gamesmanship.

When COVID-19 hit this March in all its fury, Covington was riding a wave of economic development and excitement, a city whose “cool vibe” was enticing people and businesses to move to our urban core like never before. In the months since, City leaders have worked non-stop to sustain that energy while also acting to limit the coronavirus’ impact on the health and financial well-being of our families.

In many ways, we’ve been successful: Covington has announced more than 1,000 new jobs and over $66 million in new development just since March 1, while at the same time offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in tangible aid to businesses designed to protect the jobs of our citizens. We also just announced a $2.5 million effort with six public and private partners that will make a full-frontal assault on a digital divide that has interfered with at-home instruction of Covington schoolchildren and has blocked many Covington residents from economic opportunity.

We’ve been able to do these things because Kentucky has a governor – Andy Beshear – who has prioritized people over politics and assumed full-time the role of shepherd for Kentucky during this tumultuous time.

Gov. Beshear’s pensive and consistent approach, strong decisions, 24/7 dedication, reliance on health experts and scientists, and his deep and abiding concern for Kentucky families have put the Commonwealth in a better position than most other states in dealing with the coronavirus and its devastating impact on the economy.

The numbers show it, and Kentuckians feel it. From the beginning, they have largely bought into Beshear’s leadership and his “we’ll get through this together” approach, and that support ironically has been critical to the state’s success. Why? Because the health-care community’s strategy to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease – from social distancing to masks, and hand-washing to testing – is largely voluntary, relying heavily on the public’s sense of community and belief that common-sense safety practices will work. 

As the number of COVID-19 cases has begun to climb in Kentucky and elsewhere at an alarming rate, that buy-in grows even more critical. 

Unfortunately, the public’s cooperation has waned and its confidence in public health experts’ advice has been deliberately sabotaged by an attorney general who has decided his top priority during the pandemic is to work with his GOP allies to sow discord and undermine Gov. Beshear’s efforts to help Kentucky families and local businesses, in a shameful disregard of the public’s health and economic well-being.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is a protégé (and former aide to) Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the hyper-partisan and power-obsessed official who famously bragged during President Obama’s two terms about making policy decisions based solely on his perception of whether they would help or weaken the president.

Here on the local level – where the fight with COVID-19 is playing out family by family, job by job, and small business by business – it’s flabbergasting that Cameron is throwing the full weight of his office behind trying to convince Kentucky courts to abolish every single one of the governor’s past and future orders, orders that were set in place not to help Beshear but to slow the spread of the highly contagious disease and to try to keep Kentucky’s economy open.

Cameron instead insists that Kentuckians can survive this crisis on their own, making their own decisions about public activity and relying on their own resources and devices to protect their families and jobs.

To all those outside his inner circle, it’s clear that the attorney general has made a conscious decision to view this entire crisis through partisan lens. 

During my time as mayor I have worked assiduously to maintain an even-handed approach towards partisanship.  I have dismayed my friends and befuddled my opponents by working across the aisle with Congressman Thomas Massie, Senator Rand Paul, State Senator Chris McDaniel and Senator Damon Thayer, to name but a few examples.  We have worked in mutual respect without giving up our partisan affiliation or allowing our different political philosophies to keep us from working together for the common good on an issue-by-issue basis. Our constituents are better for it.

The American political system thrives on aggressive competition, and I have certainly been a participant. But after the votes are counted and the victor declared, the system works only if the rivals of the opposing parties come together to address the pressing needs of the people we serve.

You don’t fool around with people’s health and the recovery of our economy for the sake of partisan points. This is the poisonous partisanship that disgusts and frustrates so many Kentuckians

During the initial stages of Kentucky’s response to the pandemic, Cameron acted in collaboration with the governor, but his about-face was so complete and sudden that one wonders whether a memo came down from his mentor laying out the long-familiar strategy: obstruct and oppose everything, no matter what the cost.

One legal battle played out in the courtroom of the former chairman of the Boone County Republican Party. Another in the Scott County courtroom of a judge who failed to disclose his political friendship with one of the high-profile plaintiffs in the case, Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner.

Kentuckians are fortunate that the Kentucky Supreme Court stepped in Friday to remove the matter from the local courts and announce that the state’s highest court will rule on Beshear’s use of emergency powers granted him by state law.

It was a unanimous decision, and thank goodness.

The highest priority – in fact, the only priority – of our leaders, working together, across party lines, should be the health and well-being of our families. In Covington and other cities, the pandemic continues to devastate our families’ health and financial well-being.

We have so much more to do, and we won’t succeed if Kentucky is forced to abandon the governor’s consistent, health-driven, and compassionate strategy and instead be jerked to and fro by the partisan and polarizing Machiavellian machinations of those whose actions are governed only by the next filing deadline, YouTube ad, and fund-raising appeal. We really are better than that. And we should expect our elected officials to be better than that.

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