How does one not win friends? Be governor of Illinois during a pandemic.
During one of his recent coronavirus pandemic press conferences, Gov. J.B. Pritzker was hit with the kind of question that politicians don’t just despise, but fear.
The inquiry was something along the lines of “How does it feel to be the most unpopular person in Illinois?”
The governor, like most politicians would, deflected the question and responded with cliches about the challenge of making tough decisions and the need to stand tall in the face of criticism.
No one should envy Pritzker’s position in the face of trying to figure out how to do the impossible — bring the coronavirus pandemic under control. He’s clearly up against the wall.
At the same time, no one should underestimate the public pushback he’s getting on his shutdown orders.
Last week, Pritzker announced there will be no high school basketball because it’s a close-contact sport that could encourage the spread of the virus. The next day, the Illinois High School Association announced there will be basketball if local schools decide they wish to play and conform to IHSA guidelines.
In response to the anti-Pritzker response, the state struck back. The state board of education backed up Pritzker’s edict, while the governor raised the possibility of litigation.
How would that litigation be titled? The way things are going, it will be Everybody vs. Everybody.
While that dispute was beginning to boil, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot — temporarily — moved off the Pritzker reservation. She protested the governor’s decision to shut down indoor dining in bars and restaurants in her city, complaining it will further devastate the Chicago economy. (After meeting with Pritzker, Lightfoot announced she had changed her mind.)
If that wasn’t more than enough — it was — Pritzker announced enhanced “mitigation” orders in sections of the state where the number of coronavirus cases is increasing at disturbing levels.
Champaign and surrounding counties were added Friday to the advanced restrictions list, with indoor dining and drinking once again banned and maximum gathering sizes reduced.
The people of Illinois know where they’ve been and didn’t like it much. Now it looks like, after a relatively brief respite, everyone can look forward to more of the same — if Pritzker has his way.
But the support the governor once generated is wearing thin. He attributes his decision to sound epidemiological practices. But his critics — Republican legislators, local officials and business owners — challenge him on the same grounds.
Who’s right? Who knows. But it’s pretty clear who has the power to back up his decision — Pritzker.
Operating under emergency authority that has persuaded the courts to give him a blank check. A few areas of the state may resist enforcing his rules, but mostly, Illinois has become Pritzker’s baby.
He’s opened himself up to legitimate second-guessing. For example, while all the states surrounding Illinois allowed high school football, Pritzker insisted his ban was saving young people’s lives.
Mostly, however, he’s opened
himself up to second-guessing that may or may not be worth heeding. One thing’s for sure — Pritzker is paying his critics no mind.
He’s showing little interest in moderating the aggressive stance he’s taken since Day 1. That means, in a political sense, he gets all the credit or all the blame. For the time being, Pritzker’s getting a lot of blame.