COVID Has Exposed Massive Failures in Governance

by James C. Sherlock

In a comment to my previous post, we saw a statement “most parents are happy with the education their kids are getting.”   That is no longer true. Polls say overwhelmingly it is not.

On a personal note, my two grandsons in Albemarle County schools, twin seniors, haven’t set foot in their high school this year. Albemarle County has during this same time period declared itself the state’s first antiracist school district. Excellent timing. Shows where the superintendent’s head was. The school board rubber stamped that policy. No one noted that black students were and are unable to go to school.

COVID has exposed a fatal lack of government imagination, planning and execution in good times. It simply did not do the blocking and tackling.

Remember my story about the decades-long lack of hospital and nursing home inspectors? Remember the nursing home deaths that resulted?

Remember the University of Virginia Board of Visitors more than a decade ago fired the president of that school in part because she would not invest enough in distance learning? Remember that the board itself was then threatened with firing by the Governor and she returned triumphant? Now remember what happened when that school and others had to switch to remote learning under COVID?

Remember the state pandemic emergency plan that lay fallow until COVID and then was removed from the state website because no one had looked at it in years and they did not want the embarrassment? Remember the hospital chaos and lack of supplies that resulted?

Remember the terrible public schools and lack of primary care in poor areas that pre-dated COVID? Notice that those terrible public schools and lack of primary care remain. Remember the higher COVID death rates and breathtaking learning losses in minorities that resulted?

In those years, leaders did not lead, donors exacted their pounds of flesh, many bureaucracies worked out of their inboxes and inconvenient issues were buried.

COVID and its effects on the economy, health and education under systems of government that proved not only unresponsive to the public but often acted in direct opposition to the public interest have exposed major flaws in our system of governance and should have a major impact on politics going forward.

Since COVID, “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” has been re-proven in many states and cities, including Virginia. “Do something” is not a strategy.

The people now have seen government under stress — state and local governments acting under “emergency” authorities — and don’t like what they have seen.

Whether all of that will result in better government or worse is yet to be discerned.

The left will assess that government did not have enough power, not that it was incompetent. Watch for it.

The truth is that few things in American life are as often corrupt, inept and unresponsive to peoples’ needs as state and local politics. That is where we must point our attention to make long overdue corrections.

Job one. Unlimited and out-of-state campaign donations must end.

In addition, we must ban state-granted regional monopoly healthcare providers and state-regulated utilities from participating in campaign funding and lobbying either directly or through 501c4s and PACs. Make them choose either to maintain their state-granted advantages or to lobby and fund politicians. Break up the monopolies if they don’t agree to back off.

School boards need memberships with more diverse backgrounds and the people must examine candidate credentials and governing philosophies better before voting. Most are dominated by ex-teachers and administrators. It is too closed a system.

State and local bureaucratic structures must be examined for what they did and did not accomplish in preparation for COVID and major changes made. Focus first on the office of Governor, VDEM, VDH and VDOE.

The General Assembly needs additional professional staff to conduct oversight on the executive.

The list goes on.

But letting the same crowd pretend to fix the problems they ignored before COVID and failed to properly address during COVID is not a promising strategy. Meetings and five-year-plans are not action.

The state has been led by Democratic Governors and appointees for seven years. A Republican governor and Attorney General would be good places to start.

Otherwise don’t expect different results next time.