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Pandemic politics

malloy

During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, when almost everything was shut down, people in my Meridian neighborhood found a way to get through those dark days.

On Sunday afternoons, my neighbor would play the bagpipe – filling the air with tunes such as America the Beautiful, Amazing Grace and Scotland the Brave. Those rituals helped brighten our days and bring people together.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean experienced rituals of a different sort. When she looked out her window on those Sundays, she saw people standing outside her home protesting emergency orders related to the coronavirus. One day in early July, some of the protesters carried firearms. A week later, the group asked the mayor to join them in praying “that the devil would leave my soul and recognize that I should take away the mask order,” she said.

“Today, if people don’t agree with you, then you are a socialist, a communist, or a Marxist,” she told me. “I’ve been called all three.”

Gov. Brad Little didn’t see protesters outside his home in Emmett, but they came in droves during a special legislative session in August, demanding legislators to pull the governor’s emergency orders. During the year, one Republican legislator called Little a “self-appointed tyrant,” while comparing him to “Little Hitler.”

Both Little and McLean were targets of unsuccessful recall efforts.

It’s easy to forget that governors and mayors are only human. Certainly, you’ll find self-serving characters here and there, but Little and McLean are not in that category. They are two clear-thinking people who have had to make difficult decisions based on the information and medical advice that was available. They had no “playbook” for dealing with a pandemic, or a magic wand to make it all go away.

I have known Little for many years. He was thoughtful as a state senator, respected in leadership roles, capable as a lieutenant governor and tremendously prepared when he became governor in 2019. McLean is a rising star in Idaho politics. She defeated Dave Bieter, a seemingly unbeatable four-term incumbent, in last year’s mayoral election – and the election wasn’t close. She talked about issues such as transportation, handling growth and climate change and her vision wrapped around one theme – making Boise a better city.

Little’s agenda has included dramatic improvements to education, cutting out volumes of state regulations and keeping the state sound fiscally. The grand plans presented by Little and the Boise mayor did not include shutting down businesses, increasing unemployment or otherwise creating hardships for Idahoans. But the pandemic created strange circumstances.

Idaho, which was one of the last states to report a confirmed case of COVID-19 now has more than 43,000 cases – with no sign of slowing down.
Doing nothing was not a realistic option for either the state, or the city of Boise.

McLean knows that emergency orders will be met with controversy and she understands people’s frustrations. She expressed some thoughts of her own in an “open letter to most of us,” published in local newspapers.

The name-calling is one thing, she says, “and then it’s go back to where you came from. That really concerns me because we are a nation and a valley of people who found our way here for different reasons.”

McLean was born in Boston, which is where she lived … for the first 18 months of her life. She has lived in Boise for 22 years, most of her adult life, and eight of those years were on the Boise City Council. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said.

And the city is better for it.

As for Little, his support group of sorts includes other governors who are going through similar problems with the pandemic – along with fires, floods and hurricanes. He has talked to a few who have said that pandemic management is something they did not sign up for.

“My response is, ‘really you did,’” he said. “’You are the chief executive officer and while you may not think about a pandemic, or other kinds of disasters, you’re in charge. You should not run for this job if you are not ready to address what’s critical to the safety of citizens.’”

Little, never lacking for confidence, fully embraces the old Harry Truman adage, “the buck stops here.” McLean seems to be living by those words as well.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com
 

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