Rantz: WA businesses revolt, refuse to close during coronavirus order

May 4, 2020, 8:44 PM | Updated: May 5, 2020, 10:24 am

Some Washington businesses are in revolt, keeping their doors open and services available to customers despite Governor Jay Inslee’s coronavirus stay-at-home order.

Last week, Inslee announced his phase-in approach to reopening the economy, a less speedy economic re-entry than President Donald Trump’s plan. Some counties with low infection rates may reopen quicker than, say, King or Snohomish counties.

But some of the phases don’t quite make sense to many business owners who have long argued they can operate safely. And they’re no longer waiting for Inslee’s permission.

Businesses revolt against coronavirus plan

From barbers to tree trimmers, some Washington businesses eschew Inslee’s public health warnings, operating in violation of the stay-at-home order. It’s testing the governor’s authority.

In Snohomish, longtime barber Bob Martin refuses to close his barbershop, the Stag. After word got out that he would defy the order, dozens of Washingtonians waited in long lines for their haircut. Some called it civil disobedience.

“All the barbers need to open up their shops and don’t be afraid,” Martin defiantly told the Dori Monson Show on sister station KIRO Radio. “I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not going to let that pansy-*** (Inslee) tell me what to do.”

Peter Diaz, owner of Commercial and Home Expert Tree Service, told KING 5 he won’t close his business either. He argues that “our livelihoods and our freedoms are essential.” And he’s not concerned if he gets a fine.

“Give me the fine. We’ll burn it,” Diaz promised. “Then we’ll go ahead and take this to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Businesses speak out

Not all businesses are ready to flatly revolt over the coronavirus stay-at-home order, but they sure seem tempted. Washington business owners from different industries feel like they can safely and responsibly reopen.

Jimmy McCurry is a fitness trainer who owns Progressive Performance Gym in Woodinville. He joined other business owners in the fitness industry asking Inslee to let them reopen in Phase 2.

“I consult with a lot of other gym owners around the country and we’ve collaboratively come up with ideas that allow us to operate safely,” McCurry told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “What I would say, even safer than our grocery stores were operating right now. We can take our clients and set strict boundaries and strict rules in our small space, to keep people six feet apart, to give them their own equipment for their workout and sanitizing, disinfecting multiple times a day every hour.”

Priority Beauty Bar owner Lauren Konieczny is similarly frustrated. She believes she can safely open her Puyallup salon today if allowed.

“I do, honestly, and I know I may get a lot of flak for that. … We are trained in safety and sanitation, we use so much cleaning products, Barbicide, rubbing alcohol,” Konieczny told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “Obviously we would have to add things into what we normally do, like maybe taking a temperature, wearing masks, that sort of thing.”

Some business owners and employees didn’t have a space to discuss these issues without being harassed or bullied. Some view their stance to reopen the state as dangerous. So they better organized and now have a rapidly growing online presence.

ReopenWA is born

Ryan Winfield is a Seattle-based New York Times bestselling novelist who began to wonder if Inslee’s stay-at-home order went too far. But when he discussed it on his Facebook page, people started to attack him. So he was inspired to start ReopenWA on Facebook.

“We were kind of being shouted down and shamed by other people … for whatever reason. So I created this group where we could discuss it without that going on,” Winfield told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “And before I knew it, this thing kind of blew up …”

His page grew to just shy of 35,000 members in a matter of days. Participants mostly engage in respectful and reasonable conversations about what a reopening might look like in Washington. Some back a business revolt, while others prefer a more rapid phase-in approach.

“There are as many different views on what we should do and how we should reopen as there are members, but I think everyone kind of understands that now is not a good time to be packing a football stadium. Now is not a good time to be going to concerts.”

But, he says, there’s enough data to justify opening up businesses safely without hurting the most at-risk populations to the coronavirus. And we shouldn’t be comfortable with Inslee picking economic winners or losers.

“I’m a registered Democrat and have been for decades, but I’m extremely frustrated with Inslee … how a lot of these Democrat governors throughout the country seem to be … so quickly willing to trample on individual rights, to shut down people’s businesses,” Winfield said. “Listen, I’m a shareholder in Amazon, and as a shareholder, I appreciate the fact that they’re hitting all time highs during this pandemic. But as a Washingtonian and an American, I’m absolutely furious that our governors are shutting down their competition and allowing their stock to hit all times high.”

Inslee’s test

Inslee says the state has only once used the Attorney General’s Office to enforce the stay-at-home order. He repeatedly says he doesn’t think we need to enforce the order because Washingtonians believe in his approach and are abiding.

It’s certainly true that most businesses are complying with the order. But it’s also true that more and more businesses are publicizing their decisions to stay open. And even more are voicing their frustrations with the phase-in plan, arguing their voices are not being heard.

Now, Inslee finds himself being tested over the coronavirus revolt.

As I’ve stated before, there’s not enough law enforcement in the state — or country — to enforce any of these stay-at-home orders effectively. The stay-at-home orders are only as good as the leaders implementing them are trusted. Violation begets violation and this could inspire businesses to operate independent of the orders.

If Inslee shuts these businesses down, he risks a citizen’s revolt far beyond the protest we’ve already seen in Olympia. But if he doesn’t do anything, and businesses reopen on their own, it shows his phase-in approach is overly cautious. It’s a potentially untenable political position to be overly cautious as businesses are being destroyed, even if we’re in a pandemic.

Inslee can quell any coronavirus revolt

Inslee should do what I previously begged of him: Listen to Washingtonians. Stop seeing how many times you can shoehorn in “data” and “science” into literally every sentence in your near-daily addresses. Speak to actual concerns.

Speak directly to businesses and explain to them why 50%-occupied restaurants are safer than 50%-occupied gyms. Explain why a tree trimming service can’t operate with one or two people on a job. Give us an answer on barbershops and salons when that industry is already hyper-focused on sanitization.

Most importantly, Inslee should push aside his political cowardice and lead.

He didn’t want to be the first to close the state, so he waited for others to take the lead. Similarly, he doesn’t want to be among the first states to open up. Both scenarios are politically risky for a governor up for re-election, with pretty dismal overall satisfaction levels in pre-coronavirus polling.

He should acknowledge his phase-in approach isn’t consistently applied and seemingly capricious. Then, he should make some small but meaningful changes with an eye toward getting us back to work. He doesn’t need to rush in like Georgia, but there’s a middle ground he can take. He should take it.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter and Instagram or like me on Facebook

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Rantz: WA businesses revolt, refuse to close during coronavirus order