Note: This was first published on Vick’s Facebook page Wednesday.
By now, many of you have read that I and six of my legislative colleagues have filed a lawsuit in federal court asking for an injunction against Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency declaration. I realize that some of you will agree with this action, and some will vehemently oppose it, but in this time of headline news and 30-second sound bites, I wanted to make sure that you understood my complete and lengthy thought process behind the decision to go to court.
First, it is important to acknowledge that public policy making is a difficult process. You will never create a system that makes everyone happy, because your decisions will always cause harm (real or perceived) to a segment of our 7,600,000 citizens. The legislature is designed to be an intentionally deliberative body. We elect citizen legislators from around the state who have different backgrounds and ideas, and who represent very different populations and geographies. We understand that the Puget Sound is different from Eastern Washington, which is again different from SW Washington, and we fight to have those differences recognized. It is in that respect that much of our case has been formulated.
Second, I believe that it is imperative to state clearly that there is no acceptable number of lost lives. There are no expendable humans of any age, race, creed or color. To suggest otherwise would be unconscionable to me as an individual. It is also true to me that there is no acceptable loss of economic vitality, success or viability (which is directly linked to physical, mental, and emotional health), especially at the hands of a government decree. The same is true for many other factors in this equation. There is no acceptable number of suicides, no acceptable amount of domestic violence, no acceptable number of child abuse cases, no acceptable number of addictions, and no acceptable number of people experiencing crisis and homelessness. Unfortunately, there is no situation in which all of these numbers can be zero. It is the job of your policymakers to consider all of the available information, and produce a solution that does the least harm, and provides the most benefit to all of our citizens. That is the view from which I frame my decisions.
With that as background, here are my thoughts on the lawsuit, and on our response to COVID-19 in general:
To begin, it is important to acknowledge that the legislature as a whole (including myself) was largely behind Gov. Inslee in his initial decision to call a state of emergency. We were facing a virus that was largely unknown to us. Without action, things could have been much worse. Not only was this an issue in Washington state, but COVID-19 was believed to be an emergency around our country, and around the world. A healthy skepticism is always appropriate, and we won’t fully understand the true impacts of this virus for quite some time, but the actions of the governor and a vast majority of his peers was supported in a bipartisan fashion.
It is clear to most reasonable people that to lift all restrictions around the entire state of Washington regarding COVID-19 in one fell swoop would be poor public policy. It is also poor public policy to not allow for safe, deliberate, and expedited reopening of our state, especially in areas that have experienced little to no health impact from COVID-19. To date, there are 18 counties in Washington state that have yet to report a death due to the virus. This is great news! Does it make sense that they be kept under the same forced shut down as Seattle? I think not.
The governor called the state of emergency in order to “flatten the curve.” He was rightly concerned that the virus would overwhelm our healthcare capacity, and that mortality rates would skyrocket as a result. The people listened, they heeded his call, they sacrificed for the well-being of their fellow man and their community, and that curve was flattened. Our healthcare system is not overwhelmed, and in fact the opposite is true. Significant portions of our hospitals have remained dormant throughout this shutdown as elective surgeries and medical procedures were effectively banned. Some hospitals have reported losses of nearly 40 percent in revenue, while many rural hospitals are contemplating outright bankruptcy. Our hospitals and medical professionals have done an amazing job in treating the COVID-19 patients that have come to them. These individuals cannot be thanked enough, and they can effectively care for and treat any new patients that come through their doors.
The law rightly does not allow a court to rewrite the governor’s order. The last thing that we want is to have even more “legislating from the bench.” As legislators, we have only a few real options. The first is to continue to work with the governor and plead for him to apply a more nuanced and right-sized approach to the reopening of Washington state. This is something that we have been doing since day one, and something that I have personally been very involved in as a member of the governor’s task force to help restart the economy. We will absolutely continue these efforts on behalf of our constituents, but the signals are very clear. Our opinions are not needed, as evidenced by the governor’s unexplained cancelation of scheduled task force meetings.
The second, is through the legal system.
In order to get the governor to reengage with the legislature (your senators and representatives), we must get the court to acknowledge that the state of emergency as laid out by the governor no longer exists. We can come together to craft a plan that allows us to responsibly reopen with broad bipartisan support. It is time that we say “thank you” to the citizens of Washington for giving up so much in support of those around them. It is time to acknowledge that we are intelligent human beings who not only want to regain our stability and purpose in life but want to continue to make sure that our neighbors and family members are safe. We have learned so much in a relatively short period of time. Life will not go back to normal overnight, but we can trust people to act like the responsible adults that they are and operate in a safe and effective manner.
Reopening the economy does not have to mean that we flip a switch. It also surely does not mean that we have to compel an individual to participate in an activity that they are uncomfortable with. If you can work from home, why wouldn’t you continue to do that? If you are not comfortable running into a clothing store or restaurant, I would encourage you to avoid it. Can we find ways to incentivize businesses to continue with some level of alteration? I would hope so. We can still wash our hands for 20 seconds, wear a mask if we so choose, social distance, and move forward at the same time. We can figure this out. We can craft a plan that works, but the governor has to have us at the table.
If you read to the end of this post, thank you. I know it was a journey. Collaboration is the key as we move forward, and I am hopeful that the lawsuit will get us to that end. It's not about pitchforks and protests. It's not about sacrificing one thing for another. It surely is not about sacrificing a human life. It is about finding the best solution for all corners of the state, not just the greater Puget Sound.