Republicans blast Carney for handling of COVID crisis, insist state should move on

DOVER — A handful of Republican lawmakers lambasted Gov. John Carney and the state’s approach to COVID-19 Friday, claiming his policies have left citizens removed from government, created a “culture of fear” and represent “the biggest source of the transfer of wealth … from Main Street to Wall Street” since at least the early 1980s.

Speaking at the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative luncheon, five Republicans from Kent or northern Sussex counties argued the government’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak has devastated the state’s economy, which could have been avoided. Furthermore, they claimed, the governor has acted almost like a dictator at times, disregarding legislative input and ruling with an overly heavy hand by executive order.

“It has not been a republic for three months,” Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, said.

Jeff Spiegelman

He said Republican complaints, suggestions and inquiries have been ignored, noting he’s learned of new policies from lobbyists.

Delaware has been in a state of emergency for three months, with most businesses being shut down in March after the first confirmed coronavirus case here. The state has begun slowly lifting restrictions, but it’s not enough for some people, who insist the time has come to return to normalcy.

Last month, 15 of the General Assembly’s 24 Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Carney urging him to lift limitations and open the state almost immediately. Three of the legislators who signed onto that letter also sent a message to U.S. Attorney General William Barr asking him to investigate “broad, unconstitutional overreaching by the governor of Delaware and the wholesale violation of the important rights guaranteed” to every American.

At the time, Gov. Carney called the letters insulting, inaccurate and unnecessarily divisive. Asked about the newest criticisms during a press conference on the virus Friday, the governor said he had not heard the specific comments but such second-guessing “comes with the territory.”

The state has leaned on what health experts recommend, including guidelines from the White House, “which some of those folks I know have close allegiances with,” he said.

Gov. John Carney

Describing his chief goal as to protect lives, Gov. Carney painted the economy and public health as intertwined such that the state can’t have one without the other.

“History will tell how we reacted. … I think we were careful, we were thoughtful, we tried to do the right thing and we didn’t let politics enter into it,” he said.

Delaware is moving into phase two of its reopening Monday, allowing most businesses to operate at 60% capacity rather than 30. Personal care services like hair salons, massage parlors and tattoo shops opened this week.

Face coverings and social distancing remain mandatory, and there are strict cleaning mandates and other restrictions businesses must follow.

With the prevalence of the virus on the downswing, more people are returning to a semblance of normalcy in Delaware.

“The science says this has passed and we do not have a threat,” Rep. Charles Postles, R-Milford, said Friday.

Health experts have said repeatedly, however, the threat is far from over.

Gov. Carney has acknowledged some people feel he is being too cautious even as others criticize him for being too aggressive in reopening, but at least according to one metric, Delawareans do largely seem satisfied with his performance.

As reported by The Washington Post, 73 percent of Delawareans in a May SurveyMonkey poll said they approved of how Gov. Carney has handled the state’s response to the outbreak. That figure was tied for 15th overall and seventh out of the 24 Democratic governors.

Approval ratings for President Donald Trump, in comparison, were much lower: A Washington Post-Ipsos poll from around the same time said 43 percent of Americans supported the president’s response to the outbreak, while the data from SurveyMonkey had him at 47 percent approval.

Americans are largely divided on coronavirus by political affiliation. Taking their cues from the president, Republicans generally are more supportive of aggressively reopening, while Democrats are less gung ho. Some polling, as well as anecdotal evidence, suggests much of the issue seems to come down to a fundamental philosophical disagreement about precautions that should be taken due to the virus and the importance of the economy’s health throughout this crisis.

In other words, there’s not much room for common ground between two sides with distinct but deeply held convictions and fears.

A CNN/SSRS poll conducted earlier this month said 47 percent believe “the worst is behind us” in regard to COVID, with 46 percent saying the worst still lies ahead. Sixty-four percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independents said the situation has not reached its nadir, compared to 22 percent of Republicans.

Forty-nine percent said they would be comfortable returning to their regular routines, with 50 percent saying they would not be. Seventy-three percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents indicated they would be OK with getting back to normalcy, but just 23 percent of Democrats said so.

The country as a whole has seen at least 2 million cases, with more than 110,000 deaths, and some states have seen recent upticks. Delaware has been on a steady downturn, although it just passed 10,000 cases and 400 deaths a few days ago.

At the luncheon, which was conducted with only the legislators and a handful of business leaders on location and was then broadcast through Facebook, Republicans argued decision-makers in the executive branch have bungled the crisis because they have never operated a business.

“Government overreach” has already killed many small businesses, and plenty more will die as a result of the shutdown, said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel.

The participating legislators took issue with the state of emergency continuing for more than three months without the legislature having a chance to vote on it, as well as “inconsistent” policies from the government confusing businesses and customers. They also criticized the decision to shut down the whole state instead of focusing on safeguarding the elderly and Delawareans with underlying health conditions, who make up most of the deaths.

Lyndon Yearick

Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, noted even if the state lifted all its restrictions immediately, things would not return to the way they were before, as many Delawareans are not ready to resume previously frequent activities and still wish to avoid public settings. Still, Rep. Yearick said, the state should let the free market decide.

Predictably, none of the five lawmakers endorsed another total shutdown should the state see a resurgence.

“I think it was absolutely sickening, no pun intended, to see our small businesses go by the wayside and the support of the large chains of Walmarts and all these large stores that were allowed to stay open that were essentially doing the same thing that our small businesses were on a larger scale pushing our small businesses” aside, said Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford.

Rep. Spiegelman was perhaps the harshest critic of Gov. Carney, describing “an absolute, complete disconnect between our questions and concerns … and those concerns arriving at and being addressed by the governor and his inner circle.”

The comments from the GOP legislators irked at least one Democratic colleague, with Rep. Dave Bentz, D-Christiana, writing on Twitter more lives will be lost if the state rushes its reopening.

“We can’t just pretend this isn’t happening,” he posted.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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