Opinion: Worried Georgians need more from you, Gov. Kemp

08/10/2020 - College Park, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp (left) greets U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams (right) before the start of a press conference at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic located in a Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport paid parking facility in College Park, Monday, August 10, 2020. Both Gov. Kemp and Vice Admiral Adams encouraged Georgians to where a mask to combat the spread of COVID-19.  (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
08/10/2020 - College Park, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp (left) greets U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams (right) before the start of a press conference at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic located in a Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport paid parking facility in College Park, Monday, August 10, 2020. Both Gov. Kemp and Vice Admiral Adams encouraged Georgians to where a mask to combat the spread of COVID-19. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

When my mother called, I knew it was bad. She had COVID-19 and would shortly end up in the hospital. I knew she faced an uphill battle, but luckily after almost two weeks in the hospital, she was released on oxygen. She was one of the lucky ones.

My mother is a Republican who lives in a small rural community in Middle Georgia. She supports the present occupant of the White House, and she supports you, governor. She trusted you.

She trusted you when you said to shelter in place. But when you lifted the order and began to reopen bars, salons, and restaurants, she understood that to mean that the worst was over, and that Georgians just needed to get back to normal. I remember hearing her say, if it were dangerous, the governor would not have opened everything back up. Same for masks. If they were necessary, then the governor would order everyone to wear one.

The truth is we reopened too early. Bars should have remained closed. And if you had acted decisively to mandate masks, you would have saved lives. But “truth” has been hard to come by with the steady drumbeat of attacks on the press.

As an elected official, I understand the temptation to lash out when criticized. And certainly, I’d love it if journalists only captured my best moments. The truth is, occasionally journalists get things wrong, like we all do. But not liking the facts that a newspaper accurately reports does not give you license to attack the men and women who are doing their job to provide the public with credible data. If you want the story to be about your success, you need to be successful in curtailing the virus.

Which brings me to why I write today. When I read your op-ed focusing your anger on the AJC for their tough, fair, and essential coverage, I was stunned. For months, reporters, data professionals, public health experts, and elected officials, have tried to get more information and context from your office, with little success.

Your administration’s lack of transparency has been inexplicable, a staggering failure of leadership. In large part because of these failures, the members of Georgia’s press corps have become a vital resource to the public for accurate and credible data.

State Sen. Jen Jordan
State Sen. Jen Jordan

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

So, what did the AJC do that drew such a rebuke from you? It reported on a White House Coronavirus Task Force Report that shows that the Trump administration thinks Georgia is failing at managing this crisis. The AJC made it public, providing information we all need. That’s why the AJC reported the contents. You took it personally. It’s not. The fact that your administration did not release this report to the public is a dereliction of duty of the highest order.

Even though the numbers and grim assessment came from the White House, you still seemed to have an unyielding need to put your head in the sand, and hope that we would too. After all, if the press doesn’t report on the thousands of deaths, of the damaged bodies, and devastated families, then maybe no one will realize just how badly things have been managed.

Georgians are scared. They see their friends and loved ones get sick. Some recover, but some do not. We still don’t fully understand what lasting consequences of the illness may linger. Black and brown communities have suffered so much, and yet you seem to care more about making sure college football kicks off than saving lives.

You like to talk about protecting business, as if pro-business policies can’t also protect people, but the truth is, your failures to act have hurt businesses too. By not taking the advice of scientists, you are making every mom and pop shop that’s trying to survive become the enforcer and the arbiter of mask policies. They don’t have science advisors, you do. They can’t make people wear masks, you can.

You have tried to convince us it’s the economy vs. public health. Opening vs. shutting. Personal liberty vs. mask mandates. No such dichotomy exists. We can’t have a healthy economy without healthy people. We can’t continue to enjoy our global standing when we prioritize bars over children’s education. We can’t win if we attack the people who hold up the mirror and ask us why we aren’t telling the full truth.

There is one thing that we can agree on – Georgians must work together. But that is unlikely if your administration continues to go after journalists for doing their job and for providing the public with information that you won’t. Don’t say you want unity if what you really want is silence.

State Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Sandy Springs.