Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to local leaders at the Alaska Municipal League’s legislative conference in this February 2020 photo. (Peter Segall/ Juneau Empire File)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to local leaders at the Alaska Municipal League’s legislative conference in this February 2020 photo. (Peter Segall/ Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Dunleavy needs to use his bully pulpit

For guidance, he can look to the Republican governors of Utah, North Dakota and Iowa.

  • Saturday, November 21, 2020 7:30am
  • Opinion

By Rich Moniak

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising exponentially in Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy needs to rethink his resistance to issuing a statewide mask mandate. Simply expecting Alaskans to rally around his calls to have compassion for our neighbors isn’t working.

[Governor urgers Alaskans to change their behavior]

For guidance, he can look to the Republican governors of Utah, North Dakota and Iowa. That’s how they responded to the surge in their states.

Or he can point to state Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, for why he can no longer trust enough Alaskans to help him control the spread of the virus.

“My job is to ensure the security and safety of Alaska. I can’t do that without your help” Dunleavy said in a news release 10 days ago. “No matter what you believe about the virus, the facts are the facts. Hospitalizations and sick healthcare workers are reaching untenable levels. We must act together now while we still have choices.”

Reinbold’s choice is to ignore those facts.

After a recent flight from the Lower 48, she referred to Alaska Airlines as “part of a mask tyranny” for making her wear one. And with absolutely no medical qualifications whatsoever, she accused the airline of “wrongly giving medical advice without a medical license.”

Even worse, she ended her social media screed by recommending passengers arriving in Alaska “sneak by” the airport screening and testing teams that were established under the governor’s travel health mandate.

Reinbold isn’t an outlier.

She’s part of a broad resistance to the facts that’s been encouraged by the president of the United States. And enabled by feeble Republicans, including the three governors mentioned above who waited until after election to change course. They’re supposed to be independent leaders of their own states, not partisan deckhands on a ship being steered recklessly through unchartered waters by Donald Trump.

Leadership is implied in the title of Senate Majority Leader. But regarding COVID-19, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, silently abdicated the role by failing to reveal why he refused to visit the White House for two months. After Trump tested positive for the virus in October, McConnell finally explained it was because “their approach to how to handle this is different from mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wasn’t worried about those lax or nonexistent protocols on two occasions in late September when he was in the wheelhouse with Trump’s crew. Two weeks later he was battling the virus in an intensive care unit. “I mistook the bubble of security around the president for a viral safe zone” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. He admitted he “was wrong not to wear a mask” at either event. “Wear it or you may regret it—as I did.”

Obviously, the person who Christie contracted the virus from wasn’t exhibiting symptoms. Otherwise, he or she wouldn’t have been allowed to enter the White House. But that also means he could have returned home infected but asymptomatic. Imagine how horrible he’d have felt if he unwittingly gave his wife the virus and she was the one in intensive care fighting for her life.

It’s been more than seven months since the Center for Disease Control changed it’s guidance by

recommending everyone wear at least a wear a cloth face cover when out in public places. The asymptomatic spread of the disease is the most compelling reason to wear one. Dunleavy’s administration adopted that recommendation at a time when there were very few cases detected in Alaska.

We’re now facing a crisis that’s magnitudes more severe than in the spring and during the summer surge. Recommendations haven’t been effective. Going forward it won’t get the job done, especially with figures like Reinbold boldly challenging the facts and undermining Dunleavy’s authority as governor.

And as I wrote two weeks ago, Trump’s gross mismanagement of the pandemic will forever tarnish his legacy. Whether that was due to incompetence, negligence or supreme arrogance doesn’t matter. If Dunleavy expects Alaskans to treat each other with kindness, compassion and empathy, he needs to take the bully pulpit away from a president who has never modeled any of those qualities.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a letter to the editor or My Turn.

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