What the Devil won't tell you
Open letter to Gov. Ducey: 'Jacinda' the virus for Arizona — and your legacy
Dear Gov. Doug Ducey:
Let me tell you the story about a national leader with a rabid following facing reelection later this year. That leader trailed by four in a poll taken in February. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Jacinda Ardern coaxed it out into a back alley and whooped on it with roundhouse kicks and a switchblade. This new mom beat the COVID-19 bloody and it all but limped to the Pacific and swam away.
Voters noticed. Ardern now leads by 20ish points.
Know how many coronavirus cases New Zealand most recently reported? One.
Prime Minister Ardern chose to take the pandemic head on. President Donald Trump went in... let's call it "a different direction."
And I know that you say you aren't following him off the reality reservation, but it sure looked like you are happy to be his shadow during your Thursday press conference. You announced "new" restrictions on dine-in restaurants and promised (again) an increase in testing. Mostly you implored people to stay at home, and haplessly repeated mostly the same rules you've announced before.
You need to order them to do that, governor.
You sir, are the chief executive of the coronavirus capital of the world, if we go by cases per capita. That's not a place you want to be, no matter how much the White House orders you to "stay."
Governor, your spokesman Patrick Ptak did yeoman's work trying to refute the label "worst place in the world" for coronavirus but there's only so much he can do. He argued Brazil, may in fact be worse. Brazil. Really? So your office is left spinning that Arizona may not, in fact, be the worst set of GPS coordinates on the planet to be during the worst global pandemic in the last 102 years. We might be the second-worst place to be. Brilliant.
Meanwhile, here in Tucson, the area's hospitals were down to 11 intensive care unit beds this week to serve an county of 1 million total people, with more and more infected every day. So don't talk to us about how the COVID cases are leveling off at 3,500. (There were 4,057 new confirmed cases reported on Thursday in Arizona.) Is it supposed to be good news that this state of 7 million is reporting new daily cases roughly at the same rate as the 446 million-person European Union?
Real stay at home orders — straight-up lockdowns — are the only thing that's worked anywhere in the world.
That, and real mask mandates. With real enforcement.
Stale half-measures about sit-down restaurants aren't going to cut it.
The public servant in this columnist wants to say, "If you won't fix this problem because you are scared of Donald John Trump, then step down and let Katie Hobbs do the job the way it needs to be done."
Let me put this like a political consultant: If you want to save your legacy, your boss's presidency and a thousand Arizona lives, then put a New Zealand-style hurt on the virus.
The economy, gotcha. How is our economy supposed to shift into overdrive with the fuel lines all gummy with COVID-19? Sonora just closed its border with Arizona. Arizonans must endure a two-week quarantine if they fly to New York City, which is the global financial capital. Meanwhile countries that believe in science are in the chute and ready for the rodeo.
How in the name of J. Fife Symington are we supposed to recruit businesses to come here? What's our sales pitch?
"Arizona, not necessarily the shitholiest."
"Arizona: We're pretty sure your sick kids won't die."
"Arizona: Tell grandma to stay away."
Yeah, back up the truck for all that milk and honey.
A pretty smart guy said so
Here's a good reason to issue a stay-at-home order. You made the argument yourself.
"Any excuse you can find to stay at home will benefit the state of Arizona and help us navigate through this," you said, in a press conference sponsored by the fine folks at a streaming television channel.
I've got a damn fine reason: The governor of Arizona ordered it so.
You, governor, put the issue in splendid context when you said it's hardly a sacrifice in the grand scheme of things.
"Our grandfathers stormed Normandy to defeat fascism. We’re asking you to stay at home on the couch to watch Netflix," you told people, quoting a meme. "Don’t screw it up."
You also promised not to make decisions based on politics. What other conclusion can we reach than you are singing off Trump's hymnal when you won't take the prescriptive actions other countries have taken to snap the curve's neck?
You said the right things about not necessarily opening schools when Trump is demanding they open regardless of safety.
But despite your exhortations that people stay at home, you are sticking to the honor system.
"Part of this is going to be around public education and participation," you said. "No matter what happens, we're going to be dealing with this for some time. The better way to do this, if possible, is to have public buy in as to what is the most responsible decision — not from Mount Olympus or some government entity."
What in the 12 gods names are you talking about? We wouldn't want the government to order people around. Those orders would have to be kept in a series of books labeled "Arizona Revised Statutes." Seriously, dude?
In this fantasy world you conjure up, we just nicely ask people to not ever drive drunk. We leave it to peer pressure to keep people from smoking in businesses. We could turn Customs and Border Protection into a corps of finger-waggers telling undocumented migrants they ought to be ashamed of themselves and leave it at that.
If it walks like politics. If it quacks like politics...
So a gentle aside about politics.
I predicted Bernie was couldn't possibly lose the Democratic nomination after nominally winning the first three states. I'm not going to make predictions now other than to say that I would much rather be Mark Kelly right now than Martha McSally in the race for the U.S. Senate. All former Vice President Joe Biden has had to do to jump out to an double-digit lead is stick his head up every two weeks and say "Hi. It's me. I'm not a malevolent freak."
I get it, your party doesn't like the reality as objectively perceived, but that means they can escape to a new dreamland if this one gets too hot. They always do.
Reality always wins
The virus isn’t just going to “go away” now, or ever. Long after it’s gone and vaccinated against, this pandemic will live in the minds and memories of voters. It will live in the history books. If it keeps going like this, it will be a monument to partisan political failure and the ultimate folly of the right wing’s war on reality.
Cases in Arizona seem to be holding steady somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 new infections reported daily. A state of 7 million people holding steady at levels in the ballpark of the whole EU's 446 million people is not good news.
One of our dumbest congressmen, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-East Valley of the Yakes, argued on Fox News that the president should disband the coronavirus task force because Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx are undermining Trump’s talking points.
“The task force may not be necessary anymore,” Biggs said to a practically slack-jawed Neil Cavuto. “What I’m saying is, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx have undermined what the president is trying to do.”
But guys like Biggs are fickle. We’ve seen this before and don’t be fooled, governor. The party will forget the names of the guys in charge who sat on their hands as 200,000-plus Americans die of failed leadership.
I ask you simply to go back about 15 years. Remember when the war in Iraq was a litmus test for Republican unity and conservative loyalty? Support for George W. Bush was not seen as optional for any politico wanting a future in Republican politics. Then a few cycles later, Trump rode opposition to the war to the party's nomination. It didn’t matter that the foot soldiers in conservative politics once called anyone and everyone who opposed the war “soft on national security.” They suddenly never heard of the war. It was a loser. The party had always opposed the war.
They never heard of Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld. How long before the party never heard of you, governor?
Your approval rating is tanking and you may be taking Trump with you, as you are — in one poll — the only governor in the country who's less popular than the president.
A party so hell-bent on winning above all else will not abide losers.
Heading into 2020, Trump was shaping global events. The world – here and abroad – was reacting to him. America, under Trump, was happening to the world.
Those are the presidents that get re-elected, but the presidents who get crushed after one term are the ones who seem to let the world's events happen to America.
Some day in the future, when you are wondering, governor, what happened to your political future, you may realize it ended the moment your party decided to turn the 2020 election into a referendum on the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia as the angel of death ravaged our country.
Obits and emperors
If Democrats don't write your history, governor, then demographics will.
I understand that the virus is hitting certain communities harder than others. For instance, there have been 552 cases in the four ZIP codes around Oro Valley but 1,338 cases in just one Latino-heavy ZIP code between Irvington and Valencia roads between Interstates 19 and 10.
And in a state where Latino kids outnumber white kids in grade schools, do you really want to be the party that just figured those brown lives didn’t matter as much as … what? You really want to be the party that failed to value Nana’s life?
Again, you are going to exist a hundred times longer in the annals of history than you live your life. How you are remembered may matter to you, governor.
The first line in your obituary will be how you handled this pandemic. No one will give a damn about the third quarter 2020 GDP numbers or your loyalty to Trump – at least not in the way you want.
How many former Arizona governors wanted the words "supporter of Herbert Hoover" on their tombstone? Whose political future was secured by the presidency of Jimmy Carter, other than thousands of Republicans? Who has ever referred to themselves as a George Herbert Walker Bush Republican?
I'll throw another four-year, one-termer your way: Caligula. The Roman emperor synonymous with all manner of horrible governance had an imperial reign that lasted for three years and 10 months. No one throughout history has sought power by saying "if you liked paranoid narcissistic rulers, you'll love me."
Deliver us from stupid
Look. I’m a local columnist who would prefer to talk about local issues. But you, governor, are making national politics a local threat to life and limb. I’d rather critique local leaders’ handling or mishandling of the virus. The problem is, you won’t let them have the authority that would saddle them with the responsibility.
Of course it looks like politics and you are playing it badly.
The same thermals that are have New Zealand's Ardern sitting pretty are available to you and your boss. From a purely political standpoint, emergencies are opportunities to show leadership. Voters like prime ministers, presidents and heck, governors who rise to the moment and prove themselves worthy.
It's a chance to a pull a sword from a stone. Ask yourself, governor, when a leader was rewarded for running from a Goliath? Maybe it's in "2 Joshua" where the Philistines were shooed away with peer pressure and dirty looks.
If you don't want to take charge, at least let local leaders take on the mantle of leadership, and stop standing in their way.
Deliver us from the stupid, governor. Save lives. Protect your political future and maybe just save Donald Trump from himself. Then I can get back to writing about Interstate 11.
Maybe ask yourself: What would Jacinda do?
Blake Morlock is a journalist who spent 20 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.