Arizonans can do without Ducey’s political snow job on COVID-19

ducey covid-19 press conference July 9
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about the coronavirus pandemic at a news conference July 9, 2020. Photo by Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press | Pool photo

Arizona doesn’t normally get snow in July, but Gov. Doug Ducey was shoveling it out at his most recent COVID-19 press conference.

Watching the governor, I couldn’t help but think he must figure we’re all too stupid to see through the gobbledygook he tosses out to keep us from what’s really happening. 

The governor opened his press conference exhibiting the faux resolve of a suddenly awakened leader by declaring it was a “brutal June” in Arizona when it comes to the state’s catastrophic health crisis.

“Our positivity rate is way too high … The virus is widespread,” he declared with a half-measure of righteous indignation. “The more activity happening in our economy, the more the spread will happen.”

That’s all true, governor, but tell us something we don’t know. What we all want to hear is what you plan to do about it.

From that standpoint, Ducey’s latest crisis update was mostly a bust. Instead of addressing the situation candidly and offering real solutions, the press conference basically amounted to a political snow job.

The problem is that the governor still can’t bring himself to admit that his administration’s early response to the crisis failed.

At an earlier COVID-19 press conference a reporter asked Ducey, “Did you screw up?” by waiting too long to shut the state down and then reopening too soon?

“We’re fixing it,” the governor answered curtly.

But Ducey’s not fixing it, mainly because the governor is so intent on following the lead of the White House by trying to cover his tracks rather than admitting and learning from his mistakes.

For example, Arizona’s stay-at-home order ended May 15. By early June, the state began seeing a spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases. The governor spoke to that at his press conference, but couldn’t bring himself to say, “I’m the guy who’s been in charge. But I got it wrong. I put people’s lives at risk. And I’m sorry.”

Like Florida and Texas, Arizona is now a coronavirus epicenter. What do these states all have in common? They’re all run by Republican governors who spent the early months of the crisis openly pandering to President Trump, then rushed to reopen their state’s economies without waiting for a 14-day decline in the infection rate, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now hospitalizations and the use of ventilators in Arizona are breaking records. Last week, a New York Times story listed Arizona’s per capita rate of infection as the “worst in the nation” and worse than any country in the world, though a spokesman for the governor claimed the Times’ report was “misleading” and lacked context.

While the number of new cases reported daily has begun to ebb in recent days, “ICU beds and ventilators in use by suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients both hit new records on Sunday,” according to the Arizona Republic, and morgues in Maricopa County are approaching capacity.

Ducey also spent a lot of time at the press conference insisting politics has played no role in his decisions for addressing the pandemic. 

Right. Like when the governor suddenly announced he would be accelerating the state’s reopening the day before Trump came to town to tour a Valley mask factory?

Speaking of masks, Ducey is now touting his newfound appreciation for the effectiveness of face coverings in slowing the spread of the virus. But for months, not unlike that guy in the White House, Ducey often went without a mask in public

Until a vaccine is developed, mask wearing, social distancing and frequent hand washing are our only serious defenses against COVID-19. So, yes, encouraging people to wear masks is the right thing to do.

What isn’t right is how the governor fails to mention that A) he still refuses to implement a statewide mask order B) he personally blocked cities and counties from enacting local mask orders for weeks, which almost certainly accelerated the spread of the disease, and C) he only grudgingly granted cities and counties permission to order mask wearing after local leaders threatened to mutiny.

Why won’t he impose a mandatory mask wearing order statewide? Politics, plain and simple. Ducey doesn’t want to piss off Trump or the president’s supporters ahead of the general election.

Likewise, Ducey hasn’t challenged Trump’s open threats to cut off federal education dollars if public schools nationwide don’t restart in-person classes in fall.

Asked by a reporter what he would tell the president in response to his threat to cut off funding, Ducey chose his words carefully. 

“There are not going to be any politics played in Arizona,” he said. 

That’s pretty vague, governor. If you really did set politics aside, you’d tell Trump not to pressure school districts to force children back to school before it’s truly safe to do so. 

And while you’re at it, ask the president to provide more funding for our already cash-starved school districts to help with the added costs of trying to provide a quality education in the middle of a pandemic?

This is no time for ambiguity. Children’s lives are at stake, along with the lives of their families and the teachers and staff at the schools.

To be fair, Ducey did make some news at the press conference by announcing a federally funded plan to dramatically boost COVID-19 testing statewide. But even that worthy initiative came tainted by politics.

Plans are underway to increase testing for COVID-19 to 60,000 daily tests by the end of August. The effort includes 12 days of so-called surge testing, free to low-income residents at mass testing sites in West and South Phoenix.

The governor thanked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Vice President Mike Pence for pledging to boost testing in Arizona.

I’m thankful, too. But I thought the governor said politics has no place in his COVID-19 response.

Just last week, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said FEMA had “denied multiple requests” for more testing in Phoenix. She’d asked FEMA to help increase the city’s testing capacity several times since April, but was told Phoenix didn’t have enough cases to justify more testing. 

After the state topped 100,000 confirmed coronavirus infections, Gallego asked for help again. “They said they’re trying to get away from that type of testing site,” Gallego said, “and they don’t want to open any new ones.”

Sounds about right. After all, didn’t Trump tell supporters at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma last month that he’d instructed his staff to “slow the testing down, please.”

Maybe what the folks at FEMA meant to say was that they “don’t want to open” new testing sites in Phoenix because the city is run by a Democrat, and because that wouldn’t help Trump’s re-election campaign, and because more testing would starkly contradict the president’s typical public statements on the topic. 

Like when he insists that if we just wouldn’t test so much COVID-19 would go away. 

Bottom line: If you think politics isn’t shaping the governor’s half-measured response to the worst pandemic in 100 years, I think the governor has a bridge made of snow he’d like to sell you.

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.