By Greg Chaney
Ronald Reagan once said: “We must have faith in the people of this country and faith in our principles.”
Idahoans are certainty worthy of the faith of which Reagan spoke: tough, thoughtful, resilient, and patriotic, our admirable commitment to independence and self-sufficiency has given rise to an anxious enthusiasm to see all impediments removed that threaten our ability to stand on our own two feet.
Enthusiasm is warranted. We’re beginning to see economic sectors spring back to life and clear indications of the same drive and dedication that made Idaho the nation’s fastest growing economy prior to COVID-19. As we celebrate the infant steps of our journey to recovery, continue to heed the cautions expressed by leaders from President Trump to Governor Little: reopening doesn’t mean the virus is gone.
Opening early is a hollow victory if we can’t stay open: a second wave would be even more devastating.
The agriculture sector shows us that the economic risks of COVID-19 aren’t limited to those imposed by shelter-in-place orders. In Idaho, we’ve watched as producers had to dump milk and potatoes, and we’ve seen similar tragedies nationwide involving other commodities. The issue is complex and its causes include interruptions to import/export markets and restaurants shuttering nationwide. For some commodities, the supply chain is bottle-necking due to COVID-19 outbreaks in food processing plants.
Several major meat-packing facilities recently shut down due to outbreaks. Each was “essential” and none closed due to government intervention; in fact, the President ordered them to remain open. However, despite reopening their struggle to stay staffed and operate at capacity continues as many employees are either symptomatic or fearful of infection.
This risk isn’t limited to food service, the lesson applies as much to Micron’s Boise campus as it does to Simplot’s Caldwell plant: we must proceed cautiously or risk an outbreak in our workplaces that would shut down the economy faster than any governor’s order. After a second wave, companies that manage to survive the first shutdown may not be so fortunate twice. The mere perception of risk would kill consumer confidence causing clientele and employees to be slower to return.
In consultation with the Trump Administration and Federal and State medical and economic experts, the Governor advanced a phased plan to help Idaho rebound as quickly as possible by balancing quick reopening against the risk of causing an economy-crushing second wave. Governor Little stated he would put his faith in the people of Idaho to do the right thing and has resisted the kind of heavy-handed enforcement seen elsewhere.
And what of “faith in our principles?” We rightly defend principles of independence that affirm our right to assert our liberty and financial freedom, while on principle choosing to look out for others. Our principles demand the right to criticize our government; and we do so freely while nonetheless banding together and rising to the occasion whenever crises threaten our communities.
The Governor offered a plan with the best scientific and economic chance of creating a sustainable recovery and placed his faith entirely in the people of Idaho to make it happen. That’s the Idaho way. The rest is up to us.
Many are suffering financially, so I don’t ask this lightly: please adopt the Governor’s guidance to reopening as your own. I’m not asking you to submit to coercion, I’m asking that you’ll choose to act out of cooperation. Let’s unify as fellow Idahoans as we reopen the economy and ensure it stays open and our neighbors stay safe. Faith in the people of Idaho is always the right call; together we can and will recover.
This Op-Ed ran in the Idaho Statesman on May 8, 2020 and in the Idaho Falls Post Register on May 10, 2020.