January 20, 2021

YES: Democracy dies in emergencies.

State constitutions grant their chief executives the power to declare states of emergency, and to assume special powers to meet that emergency. Many of those state constitutions limit the scope or duration of those powers; Colorado’s constitution does not. If the governor chooses not to end the state of emergency, the legislature must pass a joint resolution ending it.

Governor Polis, who has a detailed set of criteria for moving between Covid color levels with their attendant restrictions, has issued no objective criteria for ending the state of emergency and relinquishing his extraordinary powers. A supine press, bogged down in details it barely pretends to understand, has not pressed him on this.

All of this so far has been defended as an attempt to save lives, and indeed there is a direct relationship between a viral pandemic and public health. But what if a governor were to unilaterally declare a pet political program a “public health emergency?”

Unfortunately, this isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. The Denver City Council, Jefferson County’s Board of Heath, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) have all declared racism to be a public health crisis. Not that racism might exacerbate a public health crisis, mind you, but that racism itself is a public health crisis.

I’m reminded of the explanation Clarice Starling gave for her conclusion that the serial killer she was investigating would never stop: “He’s got a real taste for it.”

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