PRESS EDITORIAL: Politics in the time of pandemic

Is a pandemic bigger than politics? The answer is . . . sometimes.

It was bigger last week when Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill to counter the economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

There was plenty of the usual hard-edge debate between Republicans and Democrats in both houses, but in the end, with the pandemic and its dreadful ramifications looming over the proceedings, senators and representatives yielded on longstanding political positions and compromised for the good of the nation.

But meanwhile in Wisconsin, the political warfare between the Democratic governor and the Republican majority of the Legislature wages on unabated. Legislators who as a matter course attempt to block initiatives proposed by Gov. Tony Evers have not called a time out in recognition of the extraordinary demands for concerted action in the pandemic emergency. Some are even taking issue with the shelter-in-place order issued by the state’s chief executive.

State Sen. Duey Stroebel of Cedarburg carped that the governor’s 30-day order is too long, suggested without evidence that it was not based on science and railed about it “denying our freedoms and liberties.”

The universally accepted science behind shelter-in-place is that it is the only weapon now available to fight the spread of Covid-19.

A few days after Stroebel issued his statement, the head of his own Republican Party, President Donald Trump, took action that was a rebuke to those who, like Stroebel, foolishly understate the pandemic threat and oppose the government restrictions it requires. The president extended federal guidelines on social distancing, which are the basis for shelter-in-place orders by state governors, until the end of April, a week longer than the governor’s order will be in effect.

 Legislative leaders and the governors are also sparring over the pandemic’s impact on the April 7 election, which is the subject of justified angst.

People who are self-quarantined or observing social distancing rules will not be able to vote in person. Poll workers, many of whom are volunteers of a vulnerable age, will opt out of serving at voting places for good reason.

Expanded absentee voting is a remedy, but it’s complicated. Voters who request absentee ballots may be required to submit a photo of their ID via the internet; many voters do not have the means to do that.

In a letter to the governor and legislative leaders, 19 clerks of municipalities in Milwaukee County called for the election to be conducted by mail-in ballots only, citing “a devastating loss of election workers.” The clerks and other officials, including the Dane County corporation counsel, have said that the ID photo requirement can be waived for sheltering voters under an exemption for those “indefinitely confined” because of illness.

Gov. Evers brought the issue to a head last week by calling for every registered voter in Wisconsin to be sent an absentee ballot.

Propping up the old bogeyman of election fraud, GOP legislators are working to block any election changes. The Republican Party has filed a lawsuit over proposed absentee ballot changes and legislators reacted to the governor’s call with outrage and contempt.

The problem with the governor’s absentee ballot proposal is not election fraud, but practicality. How can it be possible to get ballots printed and delivered to some three million registered voters in a few days?

Worries about the fairness of the election are valid. Republicans and Democrats should be working together to find ways to protect the right to vote for all citizens—because a pandemic should be bigger than politics.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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