The Culture War Over Social Distancing in Washington State

Video Credit: The New Yorker - Duration: 08:26s - Published
The Culture War Over Social Distancing in Washington State

The Culture War Over Social Distancing in Washington State

The sheriff of Klickitat County is going head-to-head with Governor Jay Inslee, and is defying the state's social-distancing guidelines.


[gentle chiming]- I have no problem withinforming the governorthat I am not gonna arrestpeople, or cite 'em,over his illegal orders.Unconstitutional orders.It's not gonna happen.The majority of my job is to protectthe citizens' civil libertiesand their God-given rightsunder the Constitution.That's the sheriff's job,and I take it serious.- Two months into theU.S.'s coronavirus pandemic,the debate over whetherto reopen cities and townsis growing louder, withsome local authority figuresboldly opposing their ownstates' governors and laws.The debate over whereauthority lies in Klickitatis sounding a lot like the debatebeing waged nationally.It's not so much whether to reopen or not,it's about who's in chargeto make those decisions.On March 23rd, DemocraticGovernor Jay Insleeinstituted stay-at-homelaws in Washington.After following along initially,Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songerhas begun to openlydismiss Inslee's orders.I went to Klickitat to learn moreabout this cultural divide.From six feet away, of course.Hi, this is Charles Betheaand I'm here with Davidand Michael Hanson,and we're doing some filmingrelated to how Klickitat Countyis handling the next phase of the virus.- You might find it hard to believe,but I'm a big Trump supporter.

[laughs]I think he's done an outstanding job.And you see that he's trying toget people back to work, as well.But just from a countysheriff in a small county,I believe what I'm hearing,the virus started in China,and if our economycollapsed because of it,they won without firing a shot.- [Charles] The sheriff has a history ofbucking authority.Last year, he refused to enforcea state gun control law, a brash stancethat earned him aninterview with Alex Jones.- Understand, if theycome to take your guns,I'll be standing beside you.- [Charles] He hasdeputized a sheriff's posseof 140 local citizens authorized tokill mountain lions and act asenhanced neighborhood watchmen.His defiant style has made him popularin conservative areas of the county.In mid-April, I cameacross an email titled,'You Swore and Oath to Our Constitution',that Bob Songer had sent toa number of sheriffs in the state.Songer wrote that, "NoGovernor's proclamations"or orders can override your liberties"without violating yourConstitutional Rights,"even during a crisis."- The sheriff has total authority.We have authority throughout thecities even, and the county.When you're following the rule of lawunder the Constitution,I don't worry about it at all.Seriously.I feel comfortable in dealing withthose kinds of matters, when I believethat I'm right under the Constitution.If the governor has some other viewpointthat's not legal under the Constitution,then I have no problemgoing head-to-head with the Governor.- [Charles] Three othercounties in Washingtonhave publicly defied all, or parts,of the Governor's stay-at-home orders.A few hours after ourinterview with Songer,Governor Inslee responded to thedefiant sheriffs with a press conference.- Law enforcement officerswho I have huge respect for,who thousands of them todayare not going off half-cockedand saying they're notgonna enforce the law.They're enforcing the law.There's just two of them, that I know of,that wanna make a political statement.But, for whatever talents they havethey just are not given the rightin our democracy to make a decisionabout the Constitution.That is a decision we leave to the courts.- [Charles] Located inSouth-Central Washington,Klickitat County is roughlythe size of Rhode island.20,000 residents are split along anEast-West divide, reflectingthat of the entire state.A few progressive smalltowns on the west side,rural and conservative on the east side.I spoke to Marla Keethler,the newly elected Mayor of asmall progressive town on the west side,who agrees with Governor Inslee'sstay-at-home guidelines.Yesterday, when we satdown to talk to him,he said at one point,that he has total authority in the county.I was reminded of somethingthe President recently said, as well.Just generally speaking,what do you think his role is,or should be, in moving forwardthrough this next phase of the virus.- Hearing that he views his roleas having total authorityis not surprising,because I think it's indicative ofhow he has portrayed that positionand factually the laws kind ofsupport it right now.In terms of the freedoms thatthe Office of Sheriff has.Hearing, however, that he is saying thatis a little bit disconcertingbecause I think whether that's the powersafforded to you or not,he's still an elected official,and I think we take anoath to uphold the laws.So if he's starting to say one thing,and we're saying something else,it can give fuel to a fire.All of our public health is dependent uponthe least vigilant citizen.So if we start giving an open doorto that least vigilant citizenthat wants to return tonot having to wear a mask,or not taking proper socialdistancing precautions,or going to all the businessesthe minute they open up,and not adhering to thosebusinesses' guidelines.It threatens all of us,and I think that's a real concern.- The governor seems to be more of afollower of science thanemotion, or politics.You know, he's makingresponsible decisions.Some of them probably really hard,because shutting down everythinghas got severe consequences,for a lot of people.But, you know, what is the flip side?- [Charles] The question becomes:people in this community,what do they think is right?You know, listening to Insleeand following his proclamations,or saying "No, the sheriff says"this is okay, so I'm going to do this."Meaning opening a business, for example.- Well, I mean, our sheriff in this countyis more rural, I would saythe sheriff has more say.That's my feeling.And he's not doing it to hurt anybody,he's just doing it to try to helpthe citizens of this county.What's gonna happen this year,just at this ranch, I already knowwith the way things are going,we're gonna have thieves out herebutchering and wrestling beef.It's common.- That governor is not my boss,nor is that attorney general.The county commissioners are not my boss,even though I think a great deal of ourthree county commissioners.Outstanding people.The only people that is my bossare the citizens thatelected me to office.Period.The Constitution is the law of the land.Not some directive put out by a governor,or put out by any elected official,that flies in the faceof the Constitution.That is not legal,and it's not the proper thing to do.- Affirming for some peoplethat a total disregardfor any of the recommendationscoming down fromour Governor is appropriatebecause they are constitutionally based,feels a little bit like avery reckless distraction.It actually has the potential tocost lives, and the resources ofour first responders,and limited capabilitiesof a rural county.And that's the part thatI think is troubling.And right now in Washington state,Klickitat County is ranks firstin terms of the percentage of deathsto positive cases.That should give people pause,it's a serious situation.We don't have that much control right now.- Doctor Scott Lindquist,the State Epidemiologistfor Communicable Diseasesin Washington, told me that therhetoric coming fromsheriffs like Bob Songer,is "concerning".He was fairly confidentthat stay-at-home messagingfrom the Governor's Office would prevail.Even in these rural areas,but he couldn't be sure.We'll know soon enough.[eerie music]

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