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County Hall Corner: Surprise!

Surprise! That word could either express intense happiness or insufferable disappointment. It is a universal emotion, as virtually everyone is happy with a good surprise and unhappy with a bad one. Reflecting on 2020 and especially in response to the COVID virus, I have had three big surprises, two quite unhappy and one rather happy.

Surprise! That word could either express intense happiness or insufferable disappointment. It is a universal emotion, as virtually everyone is happy with a good surprise and unhappy with a bad one. Reflecting on 2020 and especially in response to the COVID virus, I have had three big surprises, two quite unhappy and one rather happy.

The first surprise has been the continual restrictions to public life as a result of this virus. When the two-week shutdown began on Friday the 13th of March, I would never have dreamed that we would still be facing severe restrictions into October. Worst still, there does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. What makes this surprise so painful, at least for me, is how unnecessary these restrictions have been. I have two family members and several friends who have contracted this disease, so I am certainly very sympathetic, but it still appears that this has been a case of the cure being worse than the disease. With the perspective of time, we will be able to look back objectively and realize that had herd immunity been allowed, the results of cases and deaths would have been very close to what we are seeing with all the efforts to “flatten the curve” or otherwise minimize the virus’ impact.

Please do not say “follow the science” because “the science” is all over the place. Just last week, it was reported that the World Health Organization had reversed its original COVID-19 stance, now calling for world leaders to stop locking down their countries and economies. Dr. David Nabarro from the WHO appealed to world leaders to stop “using lockdowns as your primary control method” of the coronavirus. If restrictions are the solution, California and Pennsylvania should have the lowest COVID cases per population in the country, as these are #1 and #2 in mandated controls. Needless to say, CA and PA do not have a Grade A in coronavirus mitigation.

The second surprise was the recent Supreme Court decision allowing a three-day extension of the deadline for mail-in absentee ballots in Pennsylvania for the upcoming election. In a past column, I highlighted my expectation that the US Supreme Court would follow the rule of law and vote down this measure taken by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That court had ruled in favor of state Democrats to extend the deadline for state election officials to receive mail-in ballots postmarked by the close of the polling stations on Election Day. I was positive that the US Supreme Court would vote against this action as it violated Pennsylvania state law. But instead of the rule of law, apparently, we are now operating by the rule of thumb, with opinions that seem right for the moment.

No one should be surprised that the next high-profile electoral battles will be in the state judiciary races. Currently, five of the seven state Supreme Court justices are Democrats. These are elected positions, and the Republican-controlled legislature is looking to redraw judicial districts after the 2020 Census count is finalized. This will be a knock-down, drawn-out battle because of the shift of power that has taken place this year. The executive office now has the green light for a governor to use unilateral executive orders to deal with a declared “emergency.” The judiciary of the same party gives legal protection for these orders, which leaves the legislature completely isolated with no authority whatsoever. Thus, this move to redraw the judicial districts. Expect sparks to fly.

But, to end on a positive note, there has been a happy surprise through these COVID Chronicles, and that has been the response shown by the Lycoming County Commissioners. I have attended several hundred county commissioner meetings and can attest that they can erupt into some sharp disagreements over a variety of issues. But, in arguably the biggest crisis that has come along in decades, Commissioners Metzger, Mussare, and Mirabito have cooperated admirably and shown real leadership in meeting these difficulties with courage and measured wisdom. What has been very inspiring is that all three men have recognized that there is more hurt in the county than available help. Yet, rather than throwing up their hands, they have developed creative solutions and worked with various agencies, which has done a lot to relieve some of that pain resourcefully.

As a final thought, the French writer, Francois de la Rochefoucauld, probably gave us the best advice, “The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.”

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