On Monday, a federal judge in Missouri temporarily halted implementation of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers in 10 states, including Alaska. The next day, the mandate was put on hold in all 50 states by a federal judge in Louisiana.
Those rulings seemed like good news for Gov. Mike Dunleavy. But they really hamper his goal of getting Alaska back to a pre-pandemic normal.
Dunleavy made a political calculation to appease his party’s angry base by joining the lawsuits against the mandates. Rep. Christopher Kurka, R-Wasilla, isn’t buying it. In his announcement that he’s running for governor, he claimed Dunleavy has “allowed liberty to take a backseat to tyranny” and “appears intent on bending to the pressure on the left.”
Kurka made his decision to enter the race a week after he and five legislators sponsored a listening session for constituents opposed to vaccine mandates. It was organized by Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, who Dunleavy lambasted last February for deceiving “the people of Alaska about their government’s response to the largest public health crisis in a century.”
Some in attendance aired honest complaints, such as losing their jobs with private employers for refusing to get vaccinated.
But others spoke of bizarre conspiracies. One woman accused Alaska doctors of wanting “the right to kill their own patients” and “patients of other doctors” who are seeking alternative forms of treatment. According to Joel Davidson, a man who called the vaccines “a bioweapon” got a standing ovation.
Accounts of the meeting provided by Davidson and Lex Treinen of Alaska Public Media didn’t mention if any of the six legislators pushed back against such outrageous accusations. But judging from Kurka’s comments, that didn’t happen.
“Sometimes we draw parallels to what preceded the evils that happened in Nazi Germany,” he said to the crowd via video. “But when you’re dealing with extreme evil, and when you’re dealing with authoritarian tyranny, I mean, what do you compare it to?”
Any politician comparing vaccine mandates to the Holocaust is either grossly ignorant or a fear mongering opportunist. It might play well the extreme right flank of his party, but it won’t earn Kurka any support beyond that.
But this isn’t about an election that’s 11 months away. Those in office now should be focused on using responsible mitigation measures to guide us out of the pandemic and back to normal. The two that matter most are wearing face masks in public places and getting more people vaccinated.
The gripe Kurka and Reinbold have with Dunleavy begins with him trusting the expertise of his Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, and the medical establishment across the state. He hasn’t endorsed every policy proposal they’ve strongly recommended, but he knows competent and ethical doctors and nurses are vital to the state’s response.
On the other hand, Dunleavy shied away from condemning the wildly outlandish accusations made against them during Reinbold’s event and at an Anchorage assembly hearing two months ago.
Dunleavy tried to placate his base by not enacting a statewide mask mandate. But he didn’t prohibit local governments from doing so. Or impose restrictions on what private businesses could do. Why? Because he didn’t have to play the heavy hand of government when others did the right thing by requiring masks be worn.
It’s the same with vaccinations. He’s promoted them all along, albeit meekly at times. Ultimately, he called them the tool we need “to put COVID-19 the rearview mirror.”
Essentially, Biden’s mandates would bring us closer to that goal. That’s why challenging them was worse than political posturing.
Double-dealing maneuvers like this aren’t uncommon in politics. But they rarely if ever work on long-lasting problems or ones that impact a wide range of voters. COVID is both.
As Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, so succinctly stated after a mob ransacked the Capitol last year, the best way to “show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling the truth.” In that case, the truth was Donald Trump had been lying about the election being stolen.
The truth Dunleavy needs to tell people angry over vaccine mandates is they’re being misled by doctors and scientists who were discredited by their profession long before they began spreading COVID disinformation.
Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.