COVID-19 response: States vs. federal

Frank CagleFrank Talk

On the west coast Washington, Oregon and California have made a pact to act in unison on the coronavirus. A confederation of states, so to speak. On the east coast New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware have done the same.

It is with grim amusement that some of us have watched as liberal governors have discovered states’ rights. The pandemic has demonstrated why we have states and why Washington’s usual one-size-fits all approach is often wrong.

Frank Cagle

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens asks a common-sense question. Why should the rest of the country have to play by New York’s rules? Why should small towns be treated like the densely populated city of New York? Do farm communities in Iowa need the same regulation as Los Angeles?

In our own state we have our differences. Isolated Hancock County hasn’t had any corona deaths and it does not face the same problems as Memphis. That’s why Gov. Bill Lee lifted restrictions on 89 counties outside the six counties that operate separate health departments.

The homogenization of America started for a very good reason. Southern states were using states’ rights to segregate schools and public facilities and to deny voting rights. It was necessary for the federal government to step in to secure the rights of black citizens.

But at some point, federal intervention got to be ridiculous. The federal government decided to set the national speed limit at 55. Where is that in the constitution? Montana and the Dakotas and Iowa and Texas had to have the same speed limit as New Hampshire, regardless of the long distances to be travel in western states.

So, the feds said we can’t make you, but we’ll cut off your federal highway funds. By the way, pass a seat belt law or else. You will have a helmet law. You want education funds, adopt the Common Core curriculum. When the federal speed limit came along the senators from the states, allegedly the state ambassadors to the national congress, caved. Cutting off funds has become the club to demand state compliance with every sort of federal regulation.

The situation has gotten so muddled the lines of authority in dealing with the coronavirus have become tangled. President Trump said at first that it was up to the governors to handle it. His abdication raised a hue and cry. Then he said he had total authority on whether states would begin to reopen. That’s when somebody brushed the dust off the constitution and read it again.

This isn’t a new problem. You may recall that President George W. Bush took the blame for the mishandling of the Katrina hurricane disaster in New Orleans. FEMA and the federal government are supposed to support and aid state and local government. But what do you do, as in Louisiana, when state and local governments are incompetent? Gov. Kathleen Blanco was soundly defeated for re-election, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin went to jail. But the Bush administration had to live with the incompetent label. (It didn’t help that the FEMA director was a former horse show judge.)

In the 89 Tennessee counties free of restriction, just how will retail businesses handle it? How do you eat in a restaurant without contact with wait staff and fellow diners going in and out and passing your table? A social gathering at your local pub won’t be very intimate if everyone is six feet apart. But I’m sure businesses will find creative ways to handle the situation. They have to. For their own survival and for the survival of our economy.

Bar low for winning margin: Could the 1st District congressional seat be won this time with 15 percent of the Republican primary vote? There are 17 candidates running for Congress in the 1st District, which stretches from Pigeon Forge to the Tri-Cities.

A crowded field is not unusual when an incumbent retires from that seat. When 17-term U.S. Rep. Jimmy Quillen stepped down there was a 12-person race which former speaker of the house, TVA board member and judge Bill Jenkins won with 18 percent of the vote. Another flock of candidates when Jenkins retired allowed David Davis to win with 22 percent of the vote.

The well-known Jenkins easily held the seat for 10 years. Davis was not well-known and held the seat for only one term, losing to Phil Roe who has held the seat for 12 years.

The primary is the election. Republicans have held the seat (except for two terms in the 19th Century) since 1859.

Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.


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