Maine citizens are becoming increasingly divided. It didn’t have to be this way. What started out as a unified effort to stay at home and practice social distancing in order to “bend the curve” has turned into alternate realities.
One reality includes people who have income and/or savings and the ability to stay or work from home. This group is generally ok with staying at home longer, even if it means foregoing the revenues generated during Maine’s tourist season. It is heavily influenced by the media’s singular focus on how the prosperous lives we were increasingly enjoying will never return. We are being told to worry about a second wave before we are done worrying with the first.
Another reality is populated by people who have lost their jobs, have no income or savings, and in many cases are now dealing with depression, suicide, domestic abuse, addiction and a whole host of problems created by months of staying at home. This group desperately needs a responsible return to normal before it is too late and lives are destroyed and/or lost. It also includes small business owners whose businesses and the jobs they provide will be ruined if the current situation continues.
Enter Governor Mills. At first everyone was supportive of her efforts to prepare for a worst case scenario. Thankfully it never came.
Maine people responded and did a good job. We learned about how to safely manage the risk.
Unfortunately, Maine is ranked number one in terms of the “economic” threat posed by COVID-19. That is now painfully obvious, as longtime small businesses are closing forever in every Maine community.
When Governor Mills announced that she was starting a reopening plan that can last up to four months, public sentiment started to dramatically shift. We have had rally, car and small business protests springing up all across Maine. People are increasingly understanding that the current response to COVID-19 is far worse than the health threat it poses.
Going forward, we can focus on protecting nursing homes and assisted living facilities, those with underlying health issues, and also allow people the choice to stay home. Responding to both the economic and health threats posed by COVID-19 can and need to be done at the same time.
The Governor could have prevented some of the division and public acrimony by involving the legislature. Democrats and Republicans have been shut out of the decision making process. Our elected representatives are closest to the people. I can’t begin to tell you the stories of countless families that contact my office unable to access unemployment benefits after almost two months.
People have lost their jobs, are losing their homes, savings and hope. All because our governor is tone deaf to their pleas and unwilling to weigh public health costs associated with the economic impact of her unilateral actions against a health threat that we are managing.
I am pleased to see that my fellow Oxford County Representative Kathleen Dillingham has introduced a bill requiring bipartisan participation in future emergencies. It is a thoughtful, serious proposal to ensure that our elected representatives of both parties and branches of government will share in addressing this and future emergencies.
Even in civil emergencies, there comes a point in time where no one person should dictate every action taken by an informed citizenry, pick winners and losers, and decide which businesses live and which ones die. Governor Mills should trust Maine people.
This and other proposals require that the Legislature be called back into session so that it can fulfill its role as a co-equal branch of government. The sooner this happens, the better it will be for Maine and the tens of thousands of voices calling out for an end to this nightmare.