The future ain’t what it used to be.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker threw a damper on an already-gloomy public mood last week when he announced a long-term program for addressing the pandemic that will sorely test public patience and further exacerbate the state’s dire economic problems.
Even he seemed to recognize the rules he’s putting in place — five phases of progress for four state regions — to limit the virus’ spread would go over like a lead balloon.
“I’m not the one holding the economy back from Phase 5; the COVID-19 virus is,” Pritzker said. “That’s the thing that’s been causing the very high infection rates, the hospitalizations and the deaths.”
That’s interesting phraseology. Either he’s following his own public-health advice and trying to distance himself socially from the impact of his decrees, or he’s seeking to evade accountability by pushing the responsibility onto others.
“We are listening to the scientists, the epidemiologists and the doctors about what’s best for the people who live in our state,” he said.
So, depending on one’s point of view, the medical community gets either the credit or blame for Pritzker’s policy that demands either a cure or a vaccine for the coronavirus before this state’s people and businesses can resume normal life.
That approach is, obviously, the subject of considerable discord.
Speaking for the dissenters in the state’s devastated business community, Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Todd Maisch said “while we respect his devotion to public health, he’s increasingly ignoring the economic crisis that is at hand.”
That’s an overstatement. The governor is not ignoring it; he’s presiding over this unfolding, incredibly costly disaster. But Illinois only has one governor, and it’s Pritzker who’s charged, by statute, with making public-health emergency declarations and overseeing the response.
A recent ruling by a Chicago-area federal judge, writing in a case involving the governor’s authority to limit services at churches, gives Pritzker pretty much a free hand to micromanage people’s lives. Everyone will know more on that issue when an appeals court reviews the ruling by U.S. Judge John Lee. If it stands, the governor’s emergency authority is vast.
That’s one reason why legislative Republicans, a super-minority in Springfield, want the House and Senate to reconvene. As members of a separate and co-equal branch of government, they’re itching to play a greater role in formulating pandemic policy, particularly as it relates to areas of the state that have not been hard hit.
The following statistic explains why: 58 of Illinois’ 102 counties had no deaths as of May 1, while 16 more had one death each.
While House Republican Leader Jim Durkin was critical of Pritzker’s five-phase return to normal life — “This plan does not work”— he also argued that it “presumes that the governor shall rule the state for the upcoming months — and possibly much longer — if the vaccination is not available.”
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan responded to the GOP’s proposal by doing what he usually does: swatting it away with hardly a second thought. He said in a written statement that because “it’s clear that Illinois is not out of the woods,” it would not be safe for legislators to gather in Springfield for coronavirus deliberations.
Legislators, however, will have to meet to pass a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, predicts that super-majority Democrats will call the House and Senate for one-day sessions each to approve a budget and then adjourn.
If that’s the case, it’s Pritzker’s state to run as he sees fit, and so far, his heavy-handed decisions are being guided by an apocalyptic view of the virus threat.
“Without a smart, well-thought-out plan to reopen, there might not be anything left to reopen,” Pritzker said.
Judging by his words, the governor is taking the position that he and his policies are all that stand between life and utter destruction. That’s an excessively pessimistic view not supported by the facts, and it guarantees public pushback. But under current circumstances, what Pritzker says goes until circumstances — either driven by court decisions or public noncompliance — dictate otherwise.