If you’re speeding, running stop signs and abruptly changing lanes, putting others at risk, you will be stopped and ticketed.
If your business is selling beer or wine — even inadvertently — to someone younger than 21 years old, you’ll be fined and possibly have your license suspended.
If you’re engaged in a business that is endangering the public health, you could be forced to close your doors.
So what happened Friday when Hardware Brewing Co. of Kendrick resumed its business — six weeks before Gov. Brad Little says it’s safe to congregate in bars in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
It may be only the fourth blatant display of open defiance since Little issued his first stay-at-home order on March 25 — the others include a gym in Middleton, a beauty school and a barbershop in Ammon and a bar in Nampa.
An insurrection, this is not.
But it is a challenge to a constitutional and lawful order issued during a health emergency. Among those involved were three people who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution — Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin of Idaho Falls, state Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, and state Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston. Also cheering them on was the leader of their political party, former Congressman and state GOP Chairman Raul Labrador.
Hardware Brewing owners Doug and Christine Lohman told Garrett Cabeza of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News that time was up. Bills were mounting and they could not afford to remain closed.
All of which exposes the weakness in Little’s plan: There’s nothing subtle about his authority.
The law gives him two blunt instruments.
He can declare martial law and activate the National Guard to carry out his instructions.
There’s a section of Idaho Code that empowers the governor to declare a jurisdiction to be “lawless,” and assume enforcement powers.
If he wants to avoid taking such heavy handed steps, the governor is dependent on local officials to maintain order. In the rare instances when citations have been issued — as was the case a couple of weeks ago when a Meridian woman refused to leave a closed city park playground or when a Rathdrum couple decided to host a yard sale — it’s been local cops who have responded.
Idaho State Police defer to local law enforcement. Highway patrols and sting operations occupy ISP’s attention.
Hence, Idaho State Police Detective Jake Schwecke’s response Friday. As Cabeza noted, Schwecke engaged in a lengthy discussion with the business owners and others before offering this assessment: “At the end of it, the consequences for him (Doug Lohman) are his choice. ... The lieutenant governor’s here. What are you going to do?”
How about enforce the law?
From those who have the discretion to do just that— local law enforcement as well as those who issued the business a license to sell alcoholic beverages — you’re not hearing much.
Cabeza reported a Latah County Sheriff’s deputy paid a call on Hardware Brewing prior to its 4 p.m. opening.
Consider the following:
l Suppose this triggers a wave of defiance among other Idaho businesses.
l How is it fair to the thousands of small businesses throughout the state that have endured the economic hit from being closed down? Why is one brewery, one bar, one salon and one gym allowed to flout the law — and gain a competitive advantage in the process?
l If more businesses simply ignore this policy, will it touch off another wave of contagion that disrupts the economic re-start?
l Without public confidence that it’s safe to reenter any businesses, how is economic recovery even possible?
You can see the logic behind Little’s approach. Informed by the facts behind the pandemic, consumers and businesses will act in their rational best interests.
All bets are off, of course, if more people start taking McGeachin, Labrador, Kingsley and Johnson — and others like them — seriously. — M.T.