In the Lockdown Fight for Local Control, Colorado Counties Begin to Ignore State Edicts
Last month, Weld County, a Republican-dominated county in the northern part of the state, announced it would no longer be enforcing state edicts requiring the closure of businesses for purposes of government-mandated social distancing.
Specifically, the county commissioners released a statement saying that it was up to businesses to determine for themselves whether or not they could safely open:
Weld County Government is not opening any businesses, just as Weld County Government did not close any businesses. That said, each commissioner has received comments from constituents struggling to make ends meet, pay their bills, and take care of their families who have said they are going to open their businesses.
So, Weld County Government took the proactive response of preparing best practices and guidance that could be used as business owners look to reopen—whenever they feel comfortable to do so. An informed public is a strong public.
The same preventative measures need to be heeded—we’ve said that. Expectations need to be managed—we’re doing that. What we aren’t going to do is pick winners and losers as to who gets to restart their livelihoods.
And at the end of the day, everyone has freedoms: freedom to stay home, freedom to go out, and freedom to support whatever business they want to support.
Of course, the real concern is whether or not county or state bureaucrats will show up with armed police officers and shut the business down, as has happened in some cases.
On the county level, at least, it appears the commissioners have instructed county bureaucrats to not intervene. At least according to one business owner. The owner of El Charro restaurant reported earlier this month that
her husband called the Weld County Health Department and was told they would not shut them down or penalize them for re-opening.
“They didn’t say we could open," said the general manager and Kelley's son, Harrison Chagolla. "They just said we’re not going to shut you down, we won’t stop you, which as far as we’re concerned, that’s permission enough."
The restaurant has been open at limited capacity since Wednesday. Because they are seating people at every other table to continue social distancing, the Chagollas said they have had to turn customers away.
Naturally, the governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, condemned the move and threatened to withhold emergency funds from the county. In other words, in order to enforce executive orders that he claims keep people safe, Polis plan to withhold funds designed to help people cope with COVID-19. It's a rather vindictive and capricious position to take, but it may have been the only tool the governor was willing to use.
In response, the county reported that it already has the funds Polis threatened to withhold, and says it doesn't plan to seek any additional funds.
The state maintains that it still has the ability to go in and revoke state-issued business licenses, although it is unclear that this has happened in the month since the controversy first erupted. It may be that the county has called the governor's bluff.
[RELATED: "The Shutdown May Soon Collapse in Pennsylvania Thanks to Local Resistance" by Zachary Yost]
Perhaps emboldened by the Weld County refusal, Elbert County, just east of the Denver metro area, has also announced it will no longer be adhering to the state's social distancing mandates. As reported by Elbert County News:
The Elbert County Board of County Commissioners has voted unanimously to allow graduation ceremonies for Simla, Kiowa and Elizabeth high schools, and to allow houses of worship to resume in-person services without capping attendance.
The move on May 20 came despite county officials not yet having received approval of a partial waiver request the county had submitted to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for exemptions from the state's COVID-19 guidelines.
The commissioners' vote came after repeated attempts to seek a "variance" from the governor's office allowing for greater flexibility from state mandates. The governor's office has encouraged applications of this sort, but the commissioners reported that the governor's office was apparently incapable of processing the request.
So, the county was forced to go out on its own.
In other words, the state government couldn't get its act together, so the county government had to make a judgment call. The governor's office has not threatened any action in response to Elbert County's "disobedience." And none may be coming. After all, sending state troopers to close down church services and small businesses is not necessarily a winning proposition for a governor where statewide offices are still competitive for both parties at election time.
Meanwhile, in El Paso County, home of Colorado Springs with half a million people, the district attorney and county commissioners are decidedly unenthusiastic about bringing charges against those violating state orders.
These local acts of noncooperation serve an important function in applying pressure to the governor's office, and this illustrates the difficulty in maintaining lockdown orders as time goes on. After all, the initial closures benefited from widespread public fear over the COVID-19 virus and the common perception that it could prove to be deadly on a scale similar to the 1918 flu epidemic. Thus compliance was generally voluntary and easy to maintain. It has now become clear that a chaotic and highly deadly pandemic will not play out the way many alarmist media outlets and government experts insisted it would. For example, the CDC has downgraded the disease's fatality rate, and the public has noticed that hospitals never were anywhere near exhausting capacity.
Soon, however, the county government's opposition to lockdown orders will become academic. Today, restaurants opened to dine-in service in Colorado for the first time since March. The state can either continue to soften its stance on lockdowns or risk losing credibility with the growing segment of the population which is prepared to face the risk of COVID-19 infection by participating in the regular activities of daily life.
Of course, there is political pressure coming from other corners as well. The state now is looking at the need for a 10 percent cut to spending. And that's just for starters. Much larger cuts are likely coming in the future, since restaurants and retail outlets are producing only a small fraction of former revenues. County and city governments won't be content to continue lockdowns much longer.