Inside Augusta

Don’t govern in fear

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Much has happened since I last delivered one of our radio addresses where I reminded Mainers that we are in this together. Maine’s Chief Executive was able to act quickly to address the pandemic and House Republicans supported the steps taken in the first few weeks by our Governor and President when our state and nation was trying to prepare for the unknown.

As a state we have flattened the curve and learned the necessary precautions required to minimize the effects and risks to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe – wash our hands, keep our distance while out and about in our communities, and to stay home if we don’t feel well.

We have seen businesses closed to ensure against community spread and then some be allowed to open. We have seen parks closed and some opened. We’ve gone from masks, to no masks, to the suggestion of masks, to mandated masks. Stores and neighbors are now encouraged to file reports on other citizens, who in their judgement, are not adhering to the new rules. We have seen stay at home orders and modified stay at home orders, gatherings of ten to now gatherings of 50.

We have seen a lockdown on visitors to our state. Then a requirement that visitors sign a legal document stating they tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of entering the state, and then visitors from New Hampshire and Vermont exempt from this requirement, and now visitors from New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Connecticut are free from testing and quarantining while our neighbors in Massachusetts are not.

Those retail stores that were deemed essential were allowed to open but were limited by their square footage as to how many customers they could have and also were required to have directional signs on the floors to tell people which way to enter an aisle, just like my local Walmart behind me. 

Then more retail stores were allowed to open that hadn’t made the first essentials list and recently we saw an increase in how many people could enter one of these stores even though worship services are still held to a maximum of 50 people. It was the norm to come to our Walmart and see two lines, most times one of them well around the corner. 

Though I know other places may still experience lines to enter their local supermarket and such, I am thankful that our local Walmart can have 800 people enter the store now so we don’t have folks standing outside for long periods of times in all kinds of weather in order to be able to purchase their necessities.

I believe the vast majority of Mainers understand the seriousness of this virus. But taking the virus seriously doesn’t mean we can’t ask questions of our government, nor does asking questions mean we aren’t taking the virus seriously and therefore have them dismissed as unworthy of being answered. Even as ordinary citizens without a medical degree, we still have a right to have answers and see the data that is being used to make the decisions that are heavily impacting our lives.

As a Mom, I understand the desire to want to keep those you are responsible for safe. You never stop worrying about your children, no matter how old or how far away they are. But you also realize that you can’t keep them in bubble. What you can do is to teach them how to be safe. How to make good decisions and know at the end of the day, they are individuals with their own minds and opinions and ultimately they will make their own decisions, even if you, as their parent don’t agree.

You can’t parent in fear and you can’t govern in fear either. We are a self-governed people which requires that we trust Mainers to make decisions for themselves. The government is not our parent. I could compose an infinite list of things our citizens can choose for themselves such as drinking, smoking, marijuana use, driving, etc.

It seems silly to even have to do such a thing but most decisions our citizens make can have a health impact on themselves and those around them. Government still allows them to make those decisions while providing parameters around the use such as drinking and driving, smoking with your children in your vehicle, and a prohibition on marijuana use is in some areas.

Oxford Plains Speedway and their grandstand can hold up to 9,500 people. That doesn’t include the pit side stands. The track is now allowed to run their races but they can’t have any fans in attendance. Early on in conversations with the administration about getting our track open, I was told they were looking to New Hampshire and Vermont as to what they were doing concerning track attendance. 

Both states are running their races with 50% capacity and spectators are asked to follow the recommended safety precautions. As of today, our track still isn’t allowed to run with any fans here but those same fans that are watching races in those states can now enter our state freely without restrictions. 

The Oxford Casino was finally able to open last week after months long conversations and inspections. This is not only great for our town and region here in western Maine but also for the state because revenues from the casino support k-12 education, which we all know will see significant financial impact from the virus. 

Their revenues also support our agriculture fairs and dairy farms, which have also taken a huge financial hit. But even with the size of the casino, they are only allowed to operate at 5% of their capacity, or 200 people. You remember I mentioned our Walmart can have 800 people milling about the store at a time.

I have highlighted three businesses in my area. I have no doubt Mainers can highlight many more. They can also, sadly, point to businesses that have closed for good.

Which brings me to my question, what data is now being used to make these decisions? You have two businesses that require patrons to enter their building, both of a good size, one can have 200 people and the other can have 800 people. You have a business that operates in the open air and can hold at a minimum 9500 people but aren’t allowed to have any patrons.

I don’t understand the logic, Mainers don’t understand the logic. I am simply asking for whoever is making these decisions to share the scientific data that is being used to make them with the citizens of Maine because as I said before, you can’t govern in fear. 

Mainers deserve to trust that when government takes action, it does so keeping in mind it is the government of the people, by the people, for the people… not government over the people.

About Kathleen Dillingham

Rep. Kathleen Dillingham represents District 72 in the Maine House of Representatives: Oxford, Otisfield and Mechanic Falls. Prior to being chosen by her peers to lead the House Republican Caucus in 2018, she served two terms on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.

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