Inslee, Kimball, Tompkins

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, center, talks with Liz Jessee, right, as Todd Kimball, left, and Greg Tompkins look on while touring flood-damaged housing in the Kooskooskie area along Mill Creek, February 25, 2020.

For many Walla Walla County residents, 2020 is a year to forget.

The past 12 plus months have been a real challenge for businesses, schools, restaurants and all levels of government. We have had to navigate through shut-downs, restrictions, ever changing rules and guidelines, and I do not see that changing anytime soon.

Let me assure you, your Walla Walla County Commissioners have been and continue to be committed to the best interests of county residents and businesses. Throughout the pandemic, we have persistently communicated to our state leaders our support for a safe reopening of our businesses, schools, and restaurants.

In a recent letter, commissioners sent to state leaders, we not only advocated for a safe reopening, we went a step further and asked legislators to limit our governor’s powers. While we agree the governor needs emergency powers for immediate and sudden events that crop up from time to time, we do not believe the governor should have the power to extend restrictions indefinitely without legislative approval. The letter we sent, which is being used as a battering ram against us, simply recommended defining the length of time the governor can extend an emergency to 60 days, after which time he would need to get support from the state House and state Senate (we have three equal branches of government in this state). The governor has continually extended and modified restrictions without oversight of the other two branches of government. We disagree with this display of unilateral power. It does not seem plausible that anyone in the U.S.A. believes a governor should have unchecked power to restrict movement or to pick and choose which businesses are allowed or worthy to survive for an unlimited timeframe.

This is not a political position. We commissioners could not care less whether our governor is a Democrat or Republican as it relates to executive powers. We firmly believe state and federal legislators need and should adhere to checks and balances already in place which are so central and critical to our democratic republic.

Another topic we have been getting criticism for is our position that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice. In our recent letter to our governor and legislators, we asked for legislation that does not allow businesses or individuals to be discriminated against for a decision to get (or not get) vaccinated. While we encourage everyone to get the Vaccine for COVID-19, we do not believe it should be a mandate by state, federal or local jurisdictions. We understand that getting the vaccine for as many residents as possible is the best way to get our economy open again locally as well as nationally.

Your commissioners believe the governor (and state of Washington) should not place restrictions on businesses based on vaccination requirements and that it should be left up to private business owners to decide whether or not they require their employees to be vaccinated.

As suggested by several recent letters to the editor, the commissioners do not support the platform of “We of Liberty.” I wish those who wrote the letters had actually listened to what was said at the weekly meeting on the fourth of January. Not once did any one of the commissioners say he or she supports “We of Liberty,” nor did we say we support their platform or the planned protests at the state capitol. Anyone that says we do (or said we do) is simply not being honest.

Our stance on limiting our governor’s powers and protecting businesses from discrimination are not new. Commissioners have been tooting those horns for months. The presumption that the e-mail we received from “We of Liberty” inspired the writing of our letter to legislators and the governor is simply false. Over the past 10 months, we have spoken repeatedly with our legislators about implementing reasonable restrictions on the apparent unlimited power of our governor, the e-mail was just the most recent correspondence.

All Walla Walla County residents should rest assured that your county commissioners are advocating for a safe reopening of our businesses, schools, and restaurants as quickly as possible, and that we encourage all residents of Walla Walla County to get vaccinated.