We live in a democracy. We use the word so frequently maybe we forget exactly what it means. It’s simple. Translated from the Greek “demokratia” it means literally rule by the people.
There is no power within this nation, at the federal, state or local level, which does not emanate from the people. All delusions of grandeur aside, if you hold public office the only authority you have is what “we the people” gave you, and which we can take back.
In practice, at the state level, the individuals who convey this power are our state legislators, elected by us to act on our behalf. They pass laws. They authorize officials to act on our behalf.
Which brings me to Governor Wolf. Despite a groundswell of opposition to Wolf’s draconian lockdown measures and a mountain of evidence showing that the current coronavirus pandemic poses no more risk to most people than the seasonal flu he seems determined to continue to issue and enforce edicts which are destroying our personal freedoms and devastating our economy. All over this state there are officials who profess to be outraged by his actions but act as if they are powerless to stop him.
That’s not how this works.
In declaring the current state of emergency, the Governor invoked a specific statue enacted by the state legislature. The Governor’s declaration of emergency reads in relevant part as follows.
“WHEREAS, this threat of imminent disaster and emergency situation throughout the Commonwealth is of such magnitude and severity as to render essential the Commonwealth’s supplementation of emergency resources and mutual aid to the county and municipal governments of this Commonwealth and to require the activation of all applicable state, county, and municipal emergency response plans.
NOW THEREFORE, pursuant to the provisions of Subsection 7301(c) of the Emergency Management Services Code, 35 Pa. C.S. § 7101, et seq., I do hereby proclaim the existence of a disaster emergency throughout the Commonwealth.”
The Emergency Management Services Code on which the Governor is relying was enacted by the state legislature. The legislature, which has Republican majorities in both houses, could revoke this bill tomorrow. They created the law. They have the power to make it go away.
The legislature could also modify or amend the law. They could, for instance, allow the Governor to retain the authority to declare emergencies, so that he could act when time is of the essence, but require him to come to the legislature after two weeks, or thirty days, or any other interval and obtain affirmative authorization to maintain the emergency.
Short of any of this, however, the legislature could simply use the power they already have under the existing law, as currently written.
(c) Declaration of disaster emergency.–A disaster emergency shall be declared by executive order or proclamation of the Governor upon finding that a disaster has occurred or that the occurrence or the threat of a disaster is imminent. The state of disaster emergency shall continue until the Governor finds that the threat or danger has passed or the disaster has been dealt with to the extent that emergency conditions no longer exist and terminates the state of disaster emergency by executive order or proclamation, but no state of disaster emergency may continue for longer than 90 days unless renewed by the Governor. The General Assembly by concurrent resolution may terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time. Thereupon, the Governor shall issue an executive order or proclamation ending the state of disaster emergency.
“The General Assembly by concurrent resolution may terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time.” Our state legislators can vote to end this madness anytime they choose.
Senator Mastriano and Representative Russ Diamond have already introduced resolutions in both chambers to do just this. With Republican majorities in both chambers there is no reason why these resolutions could not be passed, concurrently, tomorrow. Whether or not the legislature can then muster the two-thirds votes necessary to override the inevitable veto is an open question, but passage of these resolutions would make crystal clear to Governor Wolf that his current lockdown is being implemented in opposition to the will of the people of Pennsylvania.
And it would make crystal clear to the people of the Commonwealth where their representatives stand. It’s easy to complain about the Governor and then throw up your hands in frustration professing you can’t do anything to oppose him. It’s a lot harder, and a lot more meaningful to stand up and be counted.
Every Republican member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly should sign on to the resolution to end this emergency. Every one of them should vote for it.
Stand with the people and remember; we live in a democracy.