If there's one person in Virginia with job security, it's the head of Governor Ralph Northam's (D) crisis PR. Northam, who's become more known for his scandals than his successes, has managed to keep his damage control team hopping since the moment he was sworn into office -- first with his defense of legal infanticide and then with the surfacing of some unflattering blackface yearbook photos. But if 2020 was supposed to be the year of redemption, then someone might want to tell Northam to rethink his coronavirus strategy.
"Wearing a mask could literally save someone's life," Northam had been telling his pandemic-ravaged state. So imagine everyone's surprise when selfies of the governor started popping up on social media with beachgoers in May -- no masks in sight. Two days later, to everyone's amazement, he signed an executive order requiring Virginians to do what he wouldn't: cover their faces or take the consequences. Of course, people in the state are well acquainted with their governor's double standards. After all, Northam is the same man who called the lockdown protestors "selfish" for violating quarantine and then pledged to stand by the George Floyd mobs overflowing city streets.
But this week, it isn't just your garden variety hypocrisy that's bothering Virginia voters. It's Governor Northam's latest pandemic outrage: a snitch line for coronavirus violators. That's right. With the help of the Virginia Department of Health, Northam is urging people to file a complaint against anyone they see who isn't following social distance guidelines, the mask mandate, or overcrowding their establishments. The portal, which you can see for yourself here, comes complete with a dropdown menu that highlights places like churches and gun ranges as lawbreakers. (There's no option for "beach," in case you were wondering).
"So let me get this straight," State Senator Mark Obenshain (R) posted. "Governor Northam is asking private citizens to tattle on their fellow citizens... And these complaints can be made anonymously." In other words, he went on, "There's nothing to prevent businesses from snitching on competitors or to prevent the outright fabrication of reports." What will that mean, he wondered, for local businesses -- who are already struggling under the weight of coronavirus? Surely, this would work against them. To say nothing, he went on, of the governor's own actions, as he "equivocates and prevaricates when it comes to its enforcement in connection with protests, demonstrations, and riots..."
Of course, the irony of this latest rumor form -- and the governor's orders in general -- is that no one seems to have any idea who's overseeing it. When the governor announced his initial mandate on masks, he insisted this was a "matter of public health," not a criminal matter. Reporters at the press conference were confused. So who is enforcing these rules, they asked? And what would the punishment be? Eventually, Northam conceded that violators could be charged with a class one misdemeanor -- which would make it, you guessed it, a criminal matter.
Later, the governor's counsel, Rita Davis, tried to clean up the mess, explaining that the health commissioner would oversee the orders, not law enforcement. The point, both she and her boss stressed, wasn't to lock people up in jail but to encourage people "to do the right thing." But surely we can all agree that a state-sponsored tip line, especially one that encourages religious snooping, is about a lot more than healthy peer pressure. Governor Northam is turning neighbors into government informants with absolutely no way to screen phony or politically-motivated complaints.
Think of the possibilities, one blogger says. Want to close down a business competitor? Report them for mask-less workers! Dislike church? Turn them in for packed pews. Mad over your neighbor's landscaping? Summon the health gestapo.
State Republicans like Steve Newman could only shake his head. "Three months ago, could we imagine a Virginia where the government would set-up an online form and encourage you to report on a neighbor or your neighborhood church?" And of course, he points out, there is no pull-down menu to report "unmasked mobs of more than 50 that vandalize communities or tear down and destroy personal property." Nor, he goes on, is there an option for people who aren't social distancing while they shoot at our police. Virginia used to be a state of laws. Now? It's a state under the thumb of hypocritic governor who's relying on a secret network of citizens to uphold his capricious rules. No wonder Virginians are asking: Is it 2021 yet?