Dif­fer­ences be­tween Kelly and Par­son are stark in virus cri­sis

The Kansas City Star - - Opinion - BY THE KANSAS CITY STAR EDITORIAL BOARD

Kansas and Mis­souri Repub­li­cans seem to think that this week is a lot like last week, and the one be­fore that. It’s not, which is why Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has taken the bold and ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary ac­tions that she has, clos­ing all schools for the rest of the aca­demic year and pre­vent­ing fore­clo­sures and evic­tions dur­ing this global coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

She was the first gover­nor in the country to close all schools for the rest of the year. And since that’s so ob­vi­ously what the whole country must and will even­tu­ally do, why put more lives in dan­ger by de­lay­ing the in­evitable?

Pre­vent­ing evic­tions right now is not only hu­mane, but a pub­lic health im­per­a­tive, too, with home­less peo­ple at even greater risk. Most of those with a home will soon be re­quired to stay there, po­ten­tially for a long time. That’s why on the fed­eral level, the Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment De­part­ment will also sus­pend fore­clo­sures and evic­tions through April.

Yet even as John­son County re­ports “com­mu­nity spread” of the virus, mean­ing that the trans­mis­sion has moved to an­other, more dan­ger­ous level, the most ur­gent ac­tion taken by Kansas Repub­li­can law­mak­ers has been to try and limit what they in­cor­rectly see as over­re­ac­tion and over­step­ping from Kelly.

She isn’t your en­emy; this virus is. What a bad joke that even amid a threat on a scale that no one alive to­day has ever seen, they are still ei­ther wor­ry­ing about or pre­tend­ing to worry about whether the gover­nor might, un­der cover of this cri­sis, halt gun sales and seize am­mu­ni­tion and power.

In Mis­souri, where the first COVID-19 death was re­ported on Wed­nes­day, Repub­li­can Gov. Mike Par­son con­tin­ues to take a fright­en­ingly leisurely ap­proach, ar­gu­ing that school clo­sures must be a lo­cal de­ci­sion. On Wed­nes­day, he again said it was up to each one of us to keep our­selves safe: “It is go­ing to go back to per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity.” And he noted that else­where in the world, in­di­vid­ual ef­forts were start­ing to show im­pres­sive re­sults.

Gov. Par­son, else­where in the world and the country, peo­ple are on to­tal lock­down. That’s how we’ve started to see ma­jor re­duc­tions in trans­mis­sion, and your tepid sug­ges­tions that “maybe you don’t go to church” and “it will be up to in­di­vid­u­als” make stay­ing home sound op­tional rather than im­per­a­tive. A to­tal lock­down is com­ing, even if it ar­rives here dan­ger­ously late.

Both Par­son and Kelly are low-key politi­cians — steady-as-she-goes types by na­ture — and both have ben­e­fited po­lit­i­cally from mak­ing less ex­cit­ing na­tional news than their pre­de­ces­sors. But now Kelly has put aside her ac­cus­tomed cau­tion in re­sponse to this ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenge, while Par­son has not.

The day will come, and soon, when Kansans of all po­lit­i­cal stripes will thank

Laura Kelly for do­ing what she has done, while Mis­souri­ans will blame Mike Par­son for wast­ing time at what could have been a lifesaving mo­ment.

Mean­while, in Topeka, where law­mak­ers should have al­ready passed a bare-bones bud­get and gone home, some Repub­li­cans sim­i­larly haven’t yet snapped on the ur­gency of treat­ing this pan­demic like the emer­gency that it is.

“Th­ese are steps the gover­nor took, over the last day, that I feel strongly (were) un­nec­es­sary,” said state Sen. Gene Suel­len­trop, the Wi­chita Repub­li­can who chairs the Se­nate’s health com­mit­tee. Yes, health com­mit­tee, yet he’s the adult equiv­a­lent of those stu­dents on Florida beaches, bliss­fully un­aware of what’s com­ing. He called clos­ing schools for the rest of the year “asi­nine” and said “we can’t stop liv­ing.”

He cer­tainly isn’t. “I’m go­ing to go out into pub­lic right now,” he said this week. “I’m go­ing to go have din­ner, I’m go­ing to min­gle, and I’m go­ing to spend money in the econ­omy, to keep things moving. I hope ev­ery­body else does, too.”

This blasé in­dif­fer­ence to sci­ence and pub­lic health could be deadly, and we hope no one at all fol­lows his lead.

“I haven’t seen the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for this panic,” said state Sen. Robert Ol­son, a Repub­li­can from Olathe. “In Topeka, we haven’t closed the bars.” It’s not panic to take pre­cau­tions to pro­tect the mil­lions of lives that could be lost in the U.S. This at­ti­tude that the dis­ease will progress any dif­fer­ently here than in Italy or New York or Cal­i­for­nia is wish­ful think­ing.

The odd­est thing about all of this of­fi­cial de­nial is the lag be­tween the sud­denly se­ri­ous at­ti­tude of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who be­lat­edly seems to have been made to see the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion, and that of Repub­li­cans in Mis­souri and Kansas. Trump spent weeks down­play­ing the threat, even call­ing crit­i­cism of his slow re­sponse a hoax. Now he’s right to say that this is war, and he’s in a sense a wartime pres­i­dent, even as he’s wrong to put Asian Amer­i­cans in dan­ger ev­ery time he in­sists on call­ing it the “Chi­nese virus.”

The win­dow is clos­ing for do­mes­tic travel, and for mak­ing key de­ci­sions like where we’re go­ing to shel­ter in place. Here in the Mid­west, we’ve had more time to re­act than they have on the coasts, which makes the stub­born re­fusal of Kansas and Mis­souri Repub­li­cans to ad­mit what’s head­ing straight at us even more tragic.

IN MIS­SOURI, WHERE THE FIRST COVID-19 DEATH WAS RE­PORTED ON WED­NES­DAY, REPUB­LI­CAN GOV. MIKE PAR­SON CON­TIN­UES TO TAKE A FRIGHT­EN­INGLY LEISURELY AP­PROACH, AR­GU­ING THAT SCHOOL CLO­SURES MUST BE A LO­CAL DE­CI­SION.

As­so­ci­ated Press pho­tos

Govs. Laura Kelly and Mike Par­son are both low-key by na­ture. But Kelly has risen to meet this mo­ment, while Par­son hes­i­tates.

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