Originally submitted as an op-ed to River City News
Although several of our legislators proposed bills that would put reasonable limits on the governor’s emergency powers, Governor Beshear closed out the first legislative session of 2021 by vetoing Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 1. The former limited executive orders to thirty days unless the legislature allowed it to continue. SB 1 was merely a return to the balance of power that is crucial to free governments. HB 1 protected churches, schools, and businesses from executive shutdowns that, as we’ve seen, have the power to decimate our economy. We expect better from our legislators when they reconvene in February.
Even if you believe that the current leaders are using their power wisely in this pandemic, government power is not just about ends, but means. It’s more difficult to rein in power than unleash it. Increasing your car’s horsepower is harder than turning the steering wheel–once the power is concentrated, it can be turned towards whichever ends the person at the steering wheel wants. In Kentucky, the people have been thrown in the trunk. Beshear has control of the wheel. The difference between a free nation and an enslaved one is the amount of power in the hands of authorities. From Caesar to Hitler, history is full of dictators who exploited national fear to seize power.
If you agree with the current executive orders, ask yourself— “would I be in favor of this kind of use of power if it was directed towards a different end, like enforcing fundamentalist-style moral behavior?” This is about more than a virus—it’s about the amount of control over our personal lives that we’ve surrendered.
Since Governor Beshear’s first executive order resulting from the pandemic, several restaurants have been forced out of business. Suicide and drug-related deaths are increasing due to isolation. The CDC director pointed out that deaths from mental illness now surpass deaths from COVID-19. It’s time for us to take back our lives.
No one deserves unlimited power, not even in a crisis. We’re not asking that the authorities be handcuffed—there’s precedent for extraordinary action in extraordinary circumstances. But emergency powers were intended to quickly resolve unexpected crises. If we’re being asked to adjust to a “new normal” then perhaps we should consider—is the governor’s new normal an expanded ability to destroy businesses and isolate humans? Who’s defining what’s “normal” for us? We must reinstate the radical idea that America was founded on—that the government must be constantly checked by its citizens.