“The Politics of Coronavirus” – The Sunday Political Brunch – March 29, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – People are sick by the thousands and many are dying. So, it seems unseemly to even bring up the issue of politics at a time like this. I don’t like discussing it, but we’re in a crisis and it’s hard to avoid the politics that are in-play at this time. A national, even worldwide, emergency does not operate in a political vacuum. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Politics versus Public Policy” – People campaign for office making all kinds of promises, and if they win, we expect them to deliver on those promises. One thing I’ve learned in 43 years of covering politics, is that every vote and every decision has two consequences: one for politics, and one for public policy. Sometimes those two by-products conflict with each other, but the dichotomy is very real. Yes, you hope a vote – such as one for health care – benefits the health of the public. But at the same time, you hope if the policy succeeds, that people will reward you with re-election votes in November.

“Lessons Learned” – The old saying is that, “no one should ever see how their laws or sausages are made!” I’ve been a sponge in my career in the sense that I’ve tried to absorb as much political knowledge and history from the people I’ve worked for or covered. In 1992-93, I won a Congressional Fellowship through the American Political Science Association in Washington, D.C. The goal was to put news reporters around the country in Congressional legislative staff positions for the year, so to better understand the process. In short, we learned “how the sausage was made.” It was fascinating – somedays glorious, somedays ugly – but it was like the best graduate school you could ever attend!

“Just Do Something!” – The first six months of my Congressional Fellowship, I was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice. It was chaired by then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who of course today is the Senate Minority Leader. Schumer has always been an activist lawmaker. Even back in the 80s and 90s he was sponsoring anti-crime legislation that was signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush. Schumer told us often in staff meetings that when he’d go home to Brooklyn, people would tell him, “Just do something,” about a whole host of issues. So, as staff members we were constantly under pressure to draft legislation to at least show he was out there trying to “do something.” Sure, some of it was pure bluster, but on the other hand some of it became law as good public policy.

“Cash is King” – By week’s end, Congress passed, and President Trump signed, a two-trillion- dollar economic stimulus package. Among other things it sends checks to each adult for $1,200 and $500 for each dependent child. Unemployment benefits are extended from 26 to 42 weeks, with the weekly payout increased by $600. The goals are to help all of those thrown out of jobs in the crisis, and to have everyone stimulate the economy by purchasing things or paying off debt. Will it work? Who knows? Yes, if people spend it on consumer goods, maybe; but if you stuff it under the mattress for a rainy day, probably not. It’s the pressure on Congress to “do something” with no guarantees of a payoff economically or politically.

“Oh, By the Way, There’s an Election Soon” – While many states have delayed or postponed primary elections, West Virginia is going full speed ahead. It has a primary election on May 12, with in-person early voting set for a 10-day period from April 29 to May 9. But the state now has a legal opinion saying that people who merely fear contracting coronavirus can check the box for a medical exemption, which will allow them to vote by absentee ballot. Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) West Virginia told me in past elections, about 5-percent of people voted absentee, but he believes upwards of 50 percent will vote that way this year.

“You Can Do Anything Online” – I know in the short-run it’s a real inconvenience. In many states, including West Virginia, K-12 schools are closed, as well as state colleges and universities. But the teaching plans, lessons and homework assignments are all transitioning to an online platform, including virtual classroom discussions. While this seems revolutionary, hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide have been offering online classes and degrees for the last several years. This is the future of education folks, and we are just scratching the surface. Four years ago, I completed an Associate in Science degree in Computer Science, most of which I did online. It was one of the most enriching and rewarding educational experiences in my lifetime.

How are you adapting to the “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders during the coronavirus pandemic? Are you taking any online learning classes? Just click the comment button and let us know!!!

Dr. Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for The White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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