Governor Hutchinson said Friday that he was glad Circuit Judge Tim Fox chucked Act 1002, a legislative power grab preventing any government entities but them from making decisions about masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Fox blocked enforcement of their ban, at least for now, meaning schools and municipalities are free to require masks as they see fit.
Hutchinson said he regretted signing Act 1002 into law in the first place, and chided legislators for delivering nothing but disappointment. The goal of the session, he said, had been “to provide a fix for local school districts to protect students under 12 who could not protect themselves.”
We all saw how that went. Q-Anon took over the Capitol for three days, spewing nutty and dangerous misinformation gleaned from Google’s darkest reaches. The Republican supermajority legislature lapped it up like ivermectin on a cracker, and spread plenty of debunked conspiracies themselves. Some of them were just silly (Rep. Mary Bentley’s (R-Perryville) hot take that face masks have poop on them), but they were also dangerous. For the record, NO, you absolutely should not let your kid catch COVID-19 to get it over with, despite what that fitness instructor told the House public health committee.
Hutchinson landed a few polite glove slaps during his media chat Friday, saying he was frustrated to see lawmakers take “a casual, if not cavalier, attitude toward this public health emergency.” They crafted a bill, he said, that “failed to recognize limits on legislative authority.” Hutchinson might as well have challenged power-hungry legislators like Senators Bob Ballinger and Dan Sullivan to a duel.
Still, Hutchinson was solicitous as ever. Despite what we saw with our own eyes, Hutchinson said the conspiracy theorists were in the minority. (Vote tallies tell a different story.)
The governor stopped far short of acknowledging the red elephant in the room, that his party is now dominated by thugs and quacks, and that he’s powerless to stop their lunge toward ignorance and spite.
Hutchinson himself is culpable for this, giving credence as he does to the sentiment that average Joes know best in all things, including global health and virology, apparently.
The governor seems happy to cater to the “I’m as smart as anybody” theme that infused anti-vaxxer and anti-masker testimony. “The most trusted adviser is not the government,” Hutchinson reiterated Friday, using a pat Republican talking point. The message here, that doctors and experts from the CDC, the FDA and the Arkansas Department of Health don’t know better than anybody else, is the crux of the problem. Hutchinson seems to not have noticed.
The special session was not a waste of time and money, Hutchinson claimed, because “It’s never a waste of money to give the legislature the chance to do the right thing.” Also, his tack-on, a cruel bill to deny emergency federal unemployment money for people who lost jobs in the pandemic, sailed right on through.
While Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and the governor are usually on the same side, legally speaking, it’s different here. Hutchinson said he doesn’t know if Rutledge will appeal Fox’s injunction, nor has he decided what he himself might do to support and uphold Fox’s decision.
What Hutchinson has decided, though, is that even if it turns out he can, he absolutely will not institute a statewide mask mandate for school children or anyone else. That means that there will be local school boards that will make decisions based on the same sort of culture war insanity we saw at the Capitol this week, rather than public health guidance. And kids will get sick.