Eric Holcomb, COVID-19 and the Libertarian revolt

Should Governor Eric Holcomb’s response to COVID-19 cause Republicans to vote against him? I understand the frustration, but absent evidence of bad intent we should be more tolerant of leaders’ decisions as we deal with an unprecedented pandemic.

I was surprised when I saw a poll that put Holcomb under 40% in the race for governor, and even more surprised when his closest competitor was Libertaran candidate Donald Rainwater, not Democratic candidate Woody Myers. I personally know several loyal Republicans who will be voting for Rainwater. If the Indy Politics poll is right they will be joined by a very large number of rank-and-file Republican voters.

Much of this is due to Holcomb’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Had the novel coronavirus never jumped from bats to humans, I expect Holcomb would be sailing to an easy re-election, but a lot of Republican voters are not happy with how the governor has handled the pandemic. Even Republican state senator Jim Lucas endorsed Rainwater, prompting a backlash from the state party. I think we should take a step back and ask ourselves if we would have done the same thing Holcomb did.

First, a large majority of medical experts were advising quarantine orders to “flatten the curve” – prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. We were successful in doing that. Did Holcomb keep us locked down for too long? Perhaps, but I do not think a lot of the people attacking Holcomb understood the weight of the decision. People were literally going to live or die based on what Holcomb did in March and April, and that is an extremely intense moral weight. I was not terribly happy with the limitations either, but the “stay at home” orders are not enough reason for me to vote against Holcomb.

What about the statewide mask mandate? Again, that is not a reason I would vote against Holcomb. There are certainly times where the mask mandate amounts to pandemic theater instead of pandemic mitigation, but it has been well-established that wearing a mask does make it less likely for someone to spread the virus to others. Nothing aside from herd immunity will stop the virus from spreading, because that is impossible. But keeping the spread under control is an advisable policy goal.

Where Holcomb was dead wrong was his proposal to send men with guns to arrest people and throw them in jail for six months for not wearing a mask, but he did back away from that extreme policy when police around the state announced they would not enforce criminal penalties. I was already wearing a mask in public before the mandate, and while it is annoying it is not an unbearable imposition on personal liberty. Again, this would not disqualify Holcomb from getting my vote.

I became acquainted with Eric Holcomb in the 1990’s when I was active in the College Republicans. He is not a solid conservative in the mold of Mike Pence or John Hostettler, and his record as governor is flawed. But I think we ought to be a little more tolerant when examining his response to the pandemic. Again, life and death were hanging in the balance, and none of us had the pressure of being responsible for that. Holcomb did, and his balanced approach was an effort to make the best of a very bad situation. I am going to be voting to re-elect Holcomb, despite disagreements over details of COVID-19 policy.

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