Gov. Greg Abbott is confusing many traditional conservatives with his recent decisions about managing COVID-19.
The Republican party is historically based on the premise of smaller government, less government intrusion into people’s lives and allowing businesses to make the best decisions for themselves and their employees.
Additionally, Republicans have long argued the best governmental choices are made by those closest to the people.
This summer’s actions from the governor have many conservatives scratching their heads.
Schools are struggling to determine the best way to bring students back to classrooms. And with vaccines not yet available for a significant number of younger students, many educators believe requiring masks is an appropriate way to slow or reduce the spread of coronavirus among students, faculty and administrators.
Certainly, allowing those local leaders to make those local decisions is something Republicans have consistently championed, arguing it’s Democrats who tend to govern top-down and from afar.
But as local schools, wary of the spiking cases driven by the delta variant, moved to require students and faculty to wear marks, Abbott stepped in and prohibited school districts across the state from doing so.
That action runs directly counter to traditional conservative values of local governance. It took a play right out of the Federalist playbook of a central government calling the shots for the many.
In effect, Abbott replaced Washington D.C. with Austin. By taking away local decision-making, he abandoned a foundational conservative plank.
Then some businesses moved to manage the health of their employees and customers by requiring proof of vaccination.
Those business operators can see what employing unvaccinated people will mean for their insurance costs and productivity.
Failing to successfully manage those bottom-line pressures threatens their ability to operate and make payroll.
The costs of poor productivity and loss of profits can leave companies unable to perform at levels needed to survive in their markets and ultimately kill jobs.
The governor’s heavy-handed position is in stark opposition to the traditionally light-handed attitude of conservative government toward businesses.
If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s individuals and businesses are resourceful and thoughtful about their decisions.
Abbott’s intervention in business management also is highly selective. Many companies require workers to wear steel-toe shoes for safety reasons. Employers can and do require hardhats, goggles, hair nets and body cameras, to name a few, and in many cases, require vaccination against a whole range of maladies.
Why is requiring workers to be vaccinated against a contagious virus that has taken more than 600,000 lives unreasonable?
The data is unquestionable — those most likely to end up in hospitals, on ventilators and dead are unvaccinated. These numbers are not even debatable. And unvaccinated people who recover often suffer life-changing disabilities. It’s called a pandemic because of the massive negative impact on populations.
Schools and workplaces are by nature hosts to collections of people; they present excellent opportunities for viruses to spread.
To force a significant number of people to endure the results of a minority making what is medically proven to be a dangerous decision is wrong.
If a school, local government or business wants to protect itself, it should have that right. Individuals can still make their own choices about being vaccinated or not. Employers can make decisions about whether to keep them on the payroll or not.
Public health and a free enterprise should not be about political posturing but rather allowing for the freedom of choice balanced with the overall good for society.
Let’s get the overreach of big government out of people’s lives and return the power to individuals and local decision makers. Texas is a proud state that bristles at big government telling it what it can and cannot do.
But, unfortunately, Abbott’s posturing seems more about political opportunity than rooted in traditional conservative principles.
• Leonard Woolsey