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Peard: Want answers to big challenges? Look to local & state government

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Peard: Want answers to big challenges? Look to local & state government

A candidate commentary from Billy Peard

  • Billy for Rep/Facebook

In October 1900, Gila Bend faced a public health crisis. County officials in Phoenix learned of the diphtheria outbreak on a Saturday morning and they immediately set to action. By nightfall, a Phoenix doctor arrived in Gila Bend with express authority "to do whatever he thought right proper to eradicate the disease."

The reason this story has been passed down is because what happened next. After quarantining several families, the fine doctor went a step further: he moved one of the sick families into a military tent and set fire to their house. Evidently, he felt doing so was "right proper" to eradicate the disease.

The lawsuits commenced.

The conclusion? The doctor was in the right. The court found that county governments are empowered to "preserve the health of the county."

This is why I am running for the Arizona House of Representatives. No, I am not running to burn down the house (neither literally nor figuratively). I am running because state and local governments are keys to solving the challenges of our time.

The doctor's judgment aside, the lesson for me is this: Local governments – when they are at their best – are more agile, more responsive, and better-equipped than Washington. Local governments have both the political maneuverability and the legal authority to get things done.

This is one of the things we are learning from COVID-19. Unlike in Italy, this country does not have a nationwide shelter-in-place order, for instance. Nor would such a thing be legal. Instead, the President makes mere recommendations related to social gatherings while local officials impose requirements. When it comes to dealing with the day-to-day exigencies brought on by this pandemic, it is local and state government that reigns supreme.

Need to mandate social distancing? Local and state governments regulate the conduct of business.

Need a systematic approach to the uptick of domestic violence during COVID-19? Don't look to Washington.

Want to prevent price gouging by opportunistic retailers? State law.

Want to reduce the spread of a disease within our prisons? Most prisons are under state control.

Want to protect workers? There is no such thing as federal earned sick leave.

So too with the broader challenges we will face in the next decade. Like COVID-19, they will be caused by global phenomena. Climate change. Disease. Poverty. Drought. Like COVID-19, they will be solved locally.

When we look back on 2020, there will be two watershed events that will have shaped us as a nation: COVID-19 and the 2020 elections. Both point in the same direction – the need for bold and outside-the-box thinking at the state and local level.

As we've heard repeated many times in recent weeks: This too shall pass. And when this particular moment passes, there will be many more challenges awaiting us. Let's elect local and state officials whose response is not: "that's not my job." In recent years, we've elected bold local leaders (such as Mayor Regina Romero) who believe that big and inter-generational problems are within her rightful purview. Let's continue electing more leaders who share this approach.

Just as in 1900, our local governments in Arizona continue to have wide purview to solve difficult challenges. In fact, the same public health law that authorized the destruction of the house remains on the books today – unchanged from its territorial roots. Let's elect leaders who will exercise that authority for good – in bold and courageous ways (not by burning things down)

And for those of you who were wondering: Yes, the records indicate that the Gila Bend family was finally compensated. $988.08.

Billy Peard is an attorney who has spent perhaps too much time reading Arizona archival materials. He is running as a Democrat for the Arizona House of Representatives in Legislative District 2.

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