Coronavirus and the Need for Broad-Based Solutions
In the last week or so, the growing threat of the coronavirus pandemic has touched the lives of everyone in Arizona and across the country in some way. From shortages at the grocery store to school cancellations to uncertainty about Arizona’s Presidential Preference Election, virtually no aspect of American life has gone untouched. This is a scary and uncertain time, and none of us knows the answer to what lies ahead of us, but one thing is clear: this national and worldwide crisis has underscored the need for progressive, broad-based solutions to the various problems facing our state, our country, and the world because there is no such thing as a single-issue problem. We are deeply interconnected and so are our problems. So our solutions need to be as well.
When White Hat Research and Policy Group was founded, we identified six key areas which would be the focus of our research and policy solutions:
Technology & Innovation
But in addition to focusing on these issues, WHRPG has also sought to investigate the intersections of these issues and the impact they have on each other. And there is no better example of the interconnectedness of these issues than our current crisis, which has touched all of them:
Civic Engagement: Worries about spreading coronavirus at polling sites, and a lack of poll workers and cleaning supplies, led Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes last week to take the drastic step of mailing early voting ballots to all voters, including those, not on the Permanent Early Voting List. This led to a chaotic fight with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, which ultimately shot down the plan. But Fontes’ move highlighted the need to move to all mail-in voting, which state Republicans have resisted because they fear making voting more accessible would disadvantage them at the polls.
Criminal Justice: Incarcerated people and workers at jails and prisons are at high risk of coronavirus, especially in prisons in Arizona which already have substandard health and hygiene practices, as highlighted in a letter to the Arizona Department of Corrections from the Prison Law Office last week.
Economic Development: The coronavirus is expected to cause an economic recession that equals if not surpasses that of the 2008 financial crisis. Arizona, like many Republican-controlled states, has had a rickety recovery over the last decade because of its focus on giveaways and tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy and a refusal to return funding for critical infrastructure, most notably education, to pre-2008 levels. Now, facing down another financial crisis, Arizona needs to develop real, progressive solutions for economic recovery which benefit the state as a whole, not just the wealthiest.
Education: Speaking of education, Arizona’s notoriously underfunded education system is currently shut down, following an announcement by Governor Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman on Sunday night. Perhaps now, as the entire state realizes the importance of teachers and our public education system, we can start to genuinely rebuild this part of the state’s economic and intellectual infrastructure.
Human Resources: This crisis is also going to critically stress the state’s fragile and underfunded social safety net services, from hospitals to services for the homeless and unemployed. Now is the time to develop long-term solutions for these issues instead of being forced to fund them only in an emergency.
Technology and Innovation: It is becoming clear that a major driver of this crisis in the US and here in Arizona has been a severe lack of testing kits for the virus. A confusing lack of communication between federal and state agencies and commercial labs has added to the problems. Governor Ducey and the Republican leadership in Arizona have long touted the state as being a business-friendly environment that allows experimentation and innovation. But in this moment of crisis, when bold solutions and innovation are needed, the system has failed. Ducey’s encouragement of “innovation” typically amounts to nothing more than removing regulations and giving tax breaks, so now we need to develop a framework for what real encouragement of innovation looks like.
This is a scary time, as it is exposing how many of our critical systems in the state and the country is severely broken and how dependent they are on one another. But this is also a time to develop big, long-term solutions for these problems so we can proactively attack the next crisis instead of having to react.