In the age of COVID-19, an open letter to Gov. Ducey

ducey fires covid-19 mask
Gov. Doug Ducey receives a briefing at the Incident Command Center inside the Hilton El Conquistador Resort, 10000 N. Oracle Road, Tucson, Ariz., regarding wildfires across the state including the Bighorn Fire burning in the Santa Catalina Mountains on June 22, 2020. Photo by Mamta Popat | Arizona Daily Star/pool photo

Dear Gov. Ducey:

Arizonans are dying of COVID-19.

I know that can’t be news to you. But it needs repeating, especially given the chaotic mess of a response you’ve led to this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

If you haven’t already figured it out yet, like a lot of other Arizonans, I’m angry, disgusted and horrified.

The fact is, you waited too long to order Arizonans to stay-at-home, and in the interest of keeping big businesses and Donald Trump happy, you reopened far too soon.

It would be bad enough if I thought you were just incompetent. This wouldn’t be the first time someone got elected to a job they were wholly unqualified for.

I know better. I don’t believe you could have directed a multimillion dollar chain of ice cream shops or the state treasurer’s office, your previous jobs, if you didn’t have bona fide management skills.

But if gross ineptitude isn’t to blame, I can only surmise that your disastrous response to the spread of this unmitigatedly deadly virus is being driven by the worst kind of politics instead of the best available science.

The kind of politics I’m talking about isn’t run-of-the-mill partisanship. In your case, it’s the kind that comes from filtering every major public policy decision you make based on calculations about how it might affect your long-term political ambitions.

Let’s see, you’re the governor now. That’s no slouch job. So, what’s next? U.S. Senator? I don’t think so. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has at least four years to go and former astronaut Mark Kelly is barreling toward a win against Sen. Martha McSally, your pick to replace the late Sen. John McCain.

Assuming McSally pulls a rabbit out of a hat and keeps her seat, I can’t imagine you’d run to unseat someone you appointed. And if she loses, knocking out an astronaut-turned-U.S. senator would be a heavy lift, especially given how you’ve mismanaged our state’s COVID-19 response.

Nope. My guess is that you’ve already set your sights on a run for the White House in 2024. And why not? You’re a prolific fundraiser and your conservative credentials have more than passed muster with the pro-business and anti-abortion wings of your party. 

So far, so good. 

Your only problem is that you can’t stop peeking over your shoulder to see if you’re managing to keep the far-right extremists in your corner. 

You know who they are. It’s that growing contingent of bigoted, ultra-conservative voters, most of them white and male, who’ve been slinking around for decades in a thinly-veiled crevice of the GOP apparatus. 

Republican leaders used to think they could tame the racists in its midst by keeping the likes of former State Senate President Russell Pearce, ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Iowa Rep. Steve King, and one-time KKK leader David Duke at arm’s length — but still firmly tucked inside their big red Republican tent.

Unfortunately, you didn’t see Trump coming. And once he arrived, you didn’t lift a finger to stop him. Now, it’s his GOP, and the only way to swing an invitation to his 2020 campaign rallies (also known as “COVID-19 super spreader events”) is by kowtowing to the same slice of the electorate that showed up mask-less and itching for a fight at the president’s speech this week in defiance of Phoenix’s new city ordinance.

Not that any of this new political territory for you or most other top Republican. 

Insiders warned the party faithful in a special report after the 2012 election that the GOP might not survive for long unless it did a better job of appealing to women, young people and people of color. Rather than changing with the times, the party elite ignored the report’s findings.

Then in 2016, instead of kicking Trump out of the party when they still had the chance, the GOP nominated him for president and surrendered to his white supremacist agenda — and you enthusiastically endorsed him for president.

In your 2018 re-election, a super-PAC backing your campaign aired millions in racist campaign advertising that falsely depicted your Democratic opponent, David Garcia (no relation) — a devoted family man, Army veteran and highly respected educator — as a friend to international drug and sex traffickers. Confronted by Garcia at a debate, you refused to condemn the ads.

Now, three-and-a-half years into this nightmare of a presidency, Trump still has your support, which you proved by risking the health and safety of the people you work with and even your family by attending the president’s rally in Phoenix this week. Even though you wore a mask, few of the thousands in attendance donned any sort of protective face covering or followed social distancing guidelines. 

Trump, of course, didn’t wear a mask. But you said nothing to criticize the event or the president’s irresponsible behavior. Likewise, you’ve been mum on Trump’s repeated use during his speech of a racist slur aimed at people of Asian descent, and earlier in the day you blamed the spike in COVID-19 cases in Arizona in part on Mexicans coming across the border for health care.

So, it should be no surprise to anyone that, when the true test of your moral mettle arrived in the form of Arizona’s cataclysmic health crisis, you’ve repeatedly buckled to the perverse will of the most corrupt president in modern U.S. history.

According to a recent Columbia University study released in May, a group of scientists (not political consultants) concluded that if the president had acknowledged the very real threat of the global pandemic and taken action just two weeks sooner that more than 54,000 people — the same number of men, women and children in Lake Havasu City — might still be alive today.

The question I can’t help but ask is how many Arizonans do you think would still be alive if you hadn’t wasted so much time trying to keep Trump and his supporters happy in your calculated pursuit of higher office?

Arizonans are dying of COVID-19. 

I know that can’t be news to you. But apparently it needs repeating.

James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.