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caption: Hundreds of protestors gathered in defiance of Gov. Jay Inslee's stay-at-home orders at the Washington State Capitol on Sunday, April 19. The order bans gatherings of any size and compels nonessential businesses to remain closed until 11:59 p.m. on May 4.
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Hundreds of protestors gathered in defiance of Gov. Jay Inslee's stay-at-home orders at the Washington State Capitol on Sunday, April 19. The order bans gatherings of any size and compels nonessential businesses to remain closed until 11:59 p.m. on May 4.
Credit: Q13

Which leader got it right in week of coronavirus protests in Washington?

It's been a tumultuous week in Washington politics, with a revolt by some elected officials against the statewide shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic. Who was the best leader?

Joni Balter, host of the Seattle Channel’s Civic Cocktail, and Q13 TV analyst C.R. Douglas joined KUOW’s Angela King to parse the protests.

Those included:

  • Thousands turned out for a demonstration in Olympia against the order.
  • Leaders of Benton County in eastern Washington said businesses could reopen, then walked that back after a talking-to from the governor.
  • A gubernatorial candidate sued Governor Jay Inslee on religious grounds.
  • The sheriff of Snohomish County said he wouldn't enforce the stay-at-home order.

Joni Balter: I think it's all breathtakingly irresponsible. I'll start with the Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. You can only create confusion and danger for county residents by suggesting it’s OK to gather again when it isn't OK. We don't exactly have the state patrol or the police out there writing tickets for violating stay home orders. Compliance comes from all of us, from common sense, collective concern for public health. As you know, the World Health Organization has advised public officials to speak with one voice during the outbreak to avoid confusion. We have largely had that until now. By giving mixed messages about when to gather and reopen businesses, the sheriff is actually making his own residents less safe.

C.R. Douglas: In terms of a lawsuit, that's a big development this week. Other states have seen these kinds of lawsuits against the lockdowns as frustration grows. So it was probably only a matter of time before we saw one of those here. The chance of this kind of legal challenge succeeding is pretty low. This one's on religious grounds. No constitutional right is fully absolute, not freedom of speech, not freedom of press, not even religious freedom. There are always some exceptions, and my guess is a once-in-100-year global pandemic is one of those. This suit was filed by Joshua Freed, a Republican challenging Inslee for reelection. I don't doubt his religious conviction, but it’s also pretty clear he's badly needed a way to raise his profile and get into this debate.

Balter: Can I just add that I understand the frustration? I'm one of those people who closely watches the University of Washington health metrics modeling. The models keep getting tweaked for all the different states and countries. So this is a very delicate balancing act. I understand people are restless, but I'm going to stick up for the governor. Governor Jay Inslee, the thing that he said that made the most sense to me, he's right to say that reopening. these measures have to be based on science and not politics.

Douglas: He's getting good marks from the public. So far, so good, but it's still early, you know, we don't know where this virus is going. And certainly the unrest is growing. I mean, citizens are getting frustrated. Not all of them but certainly some and I expect that'll grow too, so he can't keep this lockdown going forever, and he's already hinted at opening certain industries and I think he's on the right track but we have a long way to go before the election and I think this is going to be a referendum on the coronavirus response.