Throughout this pandemic I have not been too hard on Gov. Polis on these pages. Political differences aside, this situation cannot be easy for any governor, or president for that matter. Granted, the decisions made are naturally enough filtered through a philosophical prism I find flawed, but at the end of the day, as I’ve stated before, he has been vouchsafed the authority to make decisions which, if he guesses wrong, could potentially cause thousands of deaths, or, alternatively, destroy the state's economy and throw more thousands into poverty. And ultimately, he is the one who must look himself in the mirror every day for the rest of his life knowing what decisions he made.
Still, no one forced the job on him, and it does come with a nice house. And, to be fair, I did what I could two years ago to prevent the burden from being foisted on him. Nevertheless, I am willing to cut him just a little slack while offering some constructive criticism.
In that spirit of helpfulness, herewith some points of (unsolicited) advice for our governor:
A. Decentralize as far as feasible. I would submit that one lesson we should take from the pandemic response is that federalism works. Colorado is not New York, or Georgia, or Michigan, and it was fitting that different approaches be used in different states. Moreover, we will look back and examine those different approaches to analyze what worked and what did not, an opportunity that would not be afforded with a blanket national approach. The same applies at the state level. Mesa County is not Denver County, Logan County is not Boulder County, and the approaches to both disease control and economic activity should be accordingly different. Some things clearly belong at the state level, just as some things do at the federal level, but the guiding principle at work is that decisions ought to be made at the lowest feasible level. A patchwork of regulations around the state for natural state-level issues, like oil and gas regulation and pesticide use, is clearly unfeasible; but decisions like whether and how to allow local businesses to open fall within local purview.
B. Let the legislature do its job. Yes, you have certain powers and authorities properly granted to you during times of emergency, but they are not, and should not be, unlimited. The legislative branch remains equal and remains the branch of government that enacts the laws you are tasked with enforcing. In an emergency, some of that necessarily has to be temporarily given to the executive branch for functional purposes, but only so much as is absolutely necessary. Part of what should be retained by the legislative branch is the “power of the purse” — including the allocation of funds given back to the state by the federal government. Let the legislature decide how to disburse the CARES Act money.
C. On a similar note, enforce the law, but mind your step. George Brauchler wrote an erudite column in some obscure publication earlier this week pointing out that yes, the law is the law, and it must be enforced; but at the same time those laws are subject to challenge or amendment by the legislature. It would be good optics for you to set the example by imposing those limits ahead of legislative action.
D. Reverse the Executive Order allowing ballot initiative signatures to be collected online. Yes, this is a unique time, but that does not mean that every rule should go out the window. Governing rules set forth in the constitution do not stop applying in unique times. There is a reason, a very good reason, that rules were made concerning the collection of ballot petition signatures, and it is critical to the functioning of our democracy that these rules stand.
D. Side note, please do not, and do not allow anyone in your employ to ever again use the phrase “these unprecedented times.” I will give you my full support for an executive order criminalizing that utterance.
E. Finally, speaking of good optics, it would be profitable for you to appoint a prominent Republican to head up the economic re-opening phase. Could there be a more bipartisan demonstration of unity? There are some pretty deep wells from which to draw on the Republican side of the ledger, including people with substantial experience in the state’s business community up to the task. Come to think of it, you may want to give George Brauchler a call.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.