When it comes to doing life-threatening work during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have rightfully congratulated our heroes on the front lines: doctors, nurses, firefighters, cops, paramedics.
Theirs are exceedingly difficult jobs under normal conditions, much less at a time when Arizona’s pandemic death toll is at 7,500 and rising.
It goes without saying that these men and women deserve our respect. And they have gotten it, for which I am grateful. But you know who else deserves a modicum of respect for taking on the difficult challenges created by the pandemic, yet has received nothing but criticism and jeers?
Gov. Doug Ducey.
Hear me out before you start penning the hate mail.
First, let me specify what I’m not saying: that Ducey’s performance has been heroic or that he has exhibited the personal courage of a first responder. He hasn’t, and that isn’t in his job description anyway.
I’m also not saying Ducey’s COVID-19 leadership has been exemplary, nor am I saying the man deserves a medal of honor, a grade of A, or even re-election (were that not a moot point because of term limits).
Here’s what I’m saying: I cannot imagine a more thankless, more caught-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place job than leading a state of 7 million people against a murderous invisible enemy.
Then throw in the 2020 election, which spiked partisan bitterness to unprecedented levels and a nonstop chorus of media and social media anger merchants at work second-guessing every single Ducey decision ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
That’s a lot to deal with for a job that pays $95K a year.
The two major critiques against Ducey demonstrate the no-win challenge COVID-19 represents.
The “pro-health” side wants Ducey to wield government like a blunt instrument, closing down businesses and implementing a mandatory curfew to “slow the spread.”
They point to 7,500 dead as a reason to ignore Arizona’s 8% unemployment rate—up from 4.4% in February, but down from 13% in April.
For them, lives lost and COVID-19 case rates are the only metrics that matter. They can live with Arizona having lost nearly 300,000 jobs between February and April, even if thus far only 194,000 of those jobs have been replaced.
They don’t want to talk about money, only about full hospital beds and full mortuaries.
Opposed by 180 degrees is the “pro-economy” side.
They do want to talk about economic carnage—and about the statistical unlikelihood of dying from COVID-19.
Their argument goes something like this: “Imagine a city of 100,000 people, like Yuma. Using today’s COVID stats, that city would have about 6,000 positive tests this year. And deaths? About 105. That’s 1 out of every 1,000 people.
“So it sounds like my likelihood of dying from COVID is 1 in 1,000.
“For that you want to crash our whole economy and destroy my freedom?”
Stuck in the middle there’s Ducey. Some of his decisions have been failures, like an eviction moratorium unaccompanied by necessary relief monies that effectively turned 1 million private properties into free housing.
Others, like not implementing a statewide nightly curfew, make perfect sense viewed through the prism of effectiveness versus injury.
The governor clearly has tried to balance economic damage with potential health impacts. To the extent that he’s been criticized for doing so, it’s out of the mistaken belief that his job should be easy or that we could have suffered COVID without consequence.
I’d give Ducey a B-minus for his pandemic response. On the hardest test ever faced by a governor, an exam that’s the equivalent of a surprise rocket science final, taken in public and when everyone else has all the answers.