EDITORIAL: Governor wrong to direct local agencies as serve as ‘party police’

Gov. Kate Brown

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Gov. Kate Brown wagged her finger at local officials last week, seeming to blame them for Oregon’s coronavirus mess. The governor instead ought to be pointing the finger at herself.

The governor and her administration continue to send confusing signals to Oregonians. That’s no way to rally a people to a cause. And it’s certainly not the way to persuade those skeptical that masks and mandates are the cure.

Brown and her administration like to sound encouraging. That was the case in a news conference last Friday, where the governor also rattled her political saber.

The governor noted that Oregon has a relatively low mortality rate. Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, noted that cases are “starting to slowly decline.” And Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, added that “transmission is slowing.”

Then came the “but.”

Brown said Oregonians needed to do more. The turnaround from peak infections is taking too long. The result, she said, would be that Oregon children might not generally return to classrooms until April.

No parent, no teacher wants that. Brown knows that. She insists she doesn’t either. But the standard for getting back to the classroom has been set. Until it’s met, classrooms for most are off limits.

Stunningly, Brown blamed “lackadaisical” local police and government officials for not getting more serious about state mandates. She wants to see more enforcement.

Remember, this is the same governor who repeatedly has told Oregonians that she didn’t intend to send out the “party police.” This is the same governor who has instructed her state agencies to go easy on businesses and others who don’t follow state mandates. The idea was to be lenient, prodding restaurants and retailers, for instance, to obey the governor’s orders through education.

Now, suddenly, police chiefs and sheriffs apparently are supposed to set up squads of “party police.” The governor was less than clear about what she expected. She skipped the tough part of making her rules stick, but she now wants local authorities to play the heavy.

That’s unfair, it’s a mandate without support, and it’s unworkable. We can’t imagine a single sworn officer writing a ticket to someone not wearing a mask in a grocery store or standing in line to get into Home Depot. We can’t imagine a squad of badge-carrying cops showing up at a birthday party with more than 10 people, lining up the adults, and going down the line, handing out citations.

The governor also warned she’s going to crack down statewide if Oregonians don’t better heed her mandates. She threatened to close restaurants and bars. Huh? The governor herself has said most businesses are obeying the rules. And state health authorities haven’t cited restaurants and bars as the cause for continuing spread of Covid. Most restaurants are striving mightily to stay in business and stay in compliance. Table after table has been removed or marked “No seating.” Closing them down would seem more theatrics to make a point than a health measure calculated to cut the Covid curse.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do on the coronavirus, especially in Malheur County. In recent days, the county passed through the 1,000 mark for infections. The positive testing rate is so high that any prospect of opening schools seems a long way off. Local residents who want their kids back in school should listen to their conscience and heed local health experts even if they tune out Brown.

Brown said last week that she walks a tightrope – that some Oregonians think she’s too strict on Covid, others too relaxed. That’s in part because of her conflicting and shifting messages. The governor said, for instance, that she’d act by the end of August if numbers don’t improve. Moments later, her administration said, well, that isn’t a time certain.

There is plenty of confusion about Covid out there. Brown adds to it. She needs to sharpen her policies, be clear about her expectations, and keep for herself the responsibility she’s trying to shift to overwhelmed and ill-equipped local authorities. – LZ