This column was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.
If Lebanon County residents ever did believe, and if lockdowns ever were science-based, by now, no one possessing a normal attention span and a healthy distrust of authority believes Pennsylvania’s lengthy COVID-19 lockdowns are still about science.
Pennsylvania’s governor, an autocratic Democrat who clearly cares little for civil liberties, and an agenda-driven Health Department head who have been calling the shots on a COVID-19 emergency declaration have now shown themselves to be vindictive as well arbitrary by excluding Lebanon County from counties transitioned to the governor’s “green” designation, even though Philadelphia and southeast Pennsylvania counties that experienced far more infections, hospitalizations and deaths were green-lighted.
Lebanon County remains “yellow” “because of an uptick in cases,” according to Pennsylvania’s Health Department.
Any sentient follower of the COVID pandemic understands that confirmed infections would increase as testing increased, and that hospitalizations would “uptick” after the infection curve was flattened by initial mitigations. Accordingly, the governor’s real reason for keeping Lebanon County on “yellow” appears to be political vengeance for local elected officials’ recent public defiance of the governor’s arbitrary “color” designations and support for distressed Lebanon County business owners who, without the governor’s authorization, reopened to keep their businesses from failing.
It gets worse.
Governor Tom Wolf’s 90-day COVID-19 emergency declaration, signed on March 6, 2020, then extended on June 3, was authorized under the Commonwealth’s 1978 emergency management services law, a measure written and passed to suspend the state constitution and give the governor extraordinary, but only temporary powers to deal with crises.
The law also defines the legislature’s essential role: “The General Assembly by concurrent resolution may terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time. Thereupon, the Governor shall issue an executive order or proclamation ending the state of disaster emergency.”
That provision was included to prevent a power-hungry governor from disrupting constitutional order and assuming dictatorial powers by unilaterally declaring and extending “emergencies” indefinitely. Reasonable people understand this.
On June 9, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including some Democrats in both chambers, concurred on a resolution to terminate the governor’s COVID-19 emergency. Then, in defiance of the same law that authorizes him to declare emergencies, the governor immediately announced his intention to “veto” the bipartisan resolution. Wolf’s spokesperson proclaimed, imperiously, “Only the governor can terminate the disaster emergency.”
Later, insisting that enforcement of the existing order, including business closures, would continue, Wolf announced he would instead “challenge” the legislature’s resolution in court, a tacit admission of the resolution’s legitimacy.
Ironically, if the court were to invalidate the portion of the bill defining the legislature’s role, the remainder, including the governor’s right to declare emergencies, would be legally questioned as well. The inevitable result would be endless legal wrangling and further constitutional disorder.
Governor Wolf’s original emergency order restricted group gatherings, ordered social distancing, and directed citizens to stay at home unless traveling for an essential job or personal need. The governor reserved the right to determine what jobs and businesses were “essential,” but refused to share the “standards” under which possibly more than 2000 otherwise “nonessential” businesses were declared “exempt” from his order, before shutting down the Commonwealth’s Right to Know office. Pennsylvania State Police personnel were ordered to enforce the governor’s impenetrable “decisions.”
Early in the emergency, after the Health Department head’s elderly mother had been removed from one to prevent her infection, Governor Wolf and his Department of Health directed unprepared long term eldercare facilities to admit or readmit COVID-infected residents, very likely directly causing about two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s COVID-related deaths.
Then, in June, Governor Wolf destroyed his self-assumed moral authority and the remainder of his already-shredded credibility by violating his own group-gathering restrictions and social distancing rules to participate in a crowded “George Floyd” demonstration on state property. Except for Wolf’s personal security detail, State Police were side-lined, revealing that the governor’s approach to “emergency” enforcement is as selective as his commitment to “science.”
Meanwhile, three-plus months after Wolf’s shutdown order, roughly two million, including Lebanon County Pennsylvanians are out of work. Businesses are failing. Tax revenues have cratered. Life-sustaining health services are being neglected. Colleges and universities are retrenching. Some will close permanently.
Wealthy and term-limited, Governor Wolf appears clueless about – or disinterested in – the economic, human and public health damage his closures are wreaking on individuals, families, institutions and businesses, especially small family-owned businesses.
As seriously, Governor Wolf stands in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The Amendment makes no exceptions for gubernatorial vanity, ignorance, indifference or incompetence.
Gov. Wolf’s lousy decisions have already taken lives. His intransigence may take far more.
Tom Wolf is a small, vindictive man who has failed Lebanon County. And he has failed Pennsylvania.
Contact columnist Jerry Shenk at firstname.lastname@example.org.