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Leadership lost

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic here in Wisconsin in mid-March, one thing we have seen remarkably little of is leadership. Where is the guidance from those elected to make difficult decisions when the chips are down? Where did state Republican leadership disappear to after they managed to squash Gov. Tony Evers executive orders through a partisan Supreme Court ruling? What -- not that it ever existed -was Clark County’s plan after it decided by majority vote in mid-June that the coronavirus “emergency” had ended?

A significant measure of government’s effectiveness is its ability to respond quickly and forcefully in times of peril. That’s what this state and nation faced in March, and Gov. Evers did what he should have -- he devised rules he throught would best fit the situation and he imposed them. Now, you may agree or disagree with what he decided, but you should not mistake his decisive actions with a lack of will to act in what he thought was the state’s best interest.

Wisconsin’s Republican leadership -- as it has shown itself wont to do time and again -- acted quickly, too, but not for the sake of the state’s health, but for political expediency. Still burning that Evers knocked golden boy Scott Walker from his pedestal in the last statewide election, Republican statehouse leaders Scott Fitzgerald and Robin Vos did about the only thing they seem to know how to do -- keep the other side from carrying out its plan. The Republicans did successfully take a challenge to Evers’ “safer at home” orders to the Supreme Court and managed to thwart that effort, but what did they do next?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. As the state’s party in power, the Republicans had a chance to show they were up to the task by replacing Evers’ orders with something they thought might work to both reopen Wisconsin’s economy and protect citizens’ health. We’re still waiting.

Closer to home, the Clark County Board of Supervisors followed the state’s lead and on June 12 voted 16-13 to stop the public health emergency order it had declared in March. Despite pleas from its health officer, its emergency management director, its personnel director, and its own attorney, the Board opted to reopen its Courthouse to the public and bring back workers who may have loved ones with health issues at home.

Since then, county government has been absolutely silent on the COVID-19 situation. While neighboring counties such as Eau Claire have set limits on public gatherings or re-closed some businesses that are susceptible to disease spread, Clark County has issued no guidance whatsoever. Its Health Department continues to plead with the public to practice safe social distancing measures and avoid crowds, but its elected leaders have chosen to do nothing. One might have expected last month’s vote to end the emergency order would have been followed by some discussion of how to proceed next, but the Board simply moved on to its next order of business as if Clark does not have one of the highest coronavirus incidence rates of all the state’s rural counties.

No wonder this state and county are flailing about in a midst of hodgepodge rules that change at every municipal line. When a coordinated effort is needed to manage the reopening process in a way that both encourages business yet limits the spread of infectious disease, what we’ve gotten instead is an anemic response from governmental bodies that are hoping if they look away long enough, their problem will go away. In case you haven’t realized it voters, you deserve far better.

Members of the TRG editorial Board include Publisher Kris O’Leary, Editor Dean Lesar, and Carol O’Leary.