Kerry Drake FILE

Drake

I have to hand it to Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne. When it comes to throwing tantrums to get his political way, nobody does it better.

His histrionic response to Gov. Mark Gordon not yet calling a meaningless special legislative session to fight vaccine mandates would be funny if it wasn’t likely to be effective. He’ll almost certainly bully enough GOP legislators to make the special session happen. Yes, it would be a waste of money. But it would also send exactly the wrong message about a health crisis we need to get under control now.

Eathorne wrote to the Legislature’s leaders that he’s fed up with Gordon’s lack of urgency on the issue. “Wyoming’s people need to see action – and confident leadership. … We believe a majority of legislators favor a special session,” the chairman wrote. “THERE IS NO TIME TO WASTE.”

There is no vaccine mandate in place to do anything about, because President Joe Biden’s executive order still has to go through the rulemaking process. That has to happen through OSHA, the regulatory agency charged with protecting American workers from “grave danger.”

If the 700,000 deaths due to COVID-19 doesn’t meet that standard, I’d hate to see what Eathorne considers a real threat.

Except I already know – it’s the fear of having elected members of his own party who won’t follow his extreme-right agenda. Republicans have stoked so much fear about the federal government trying to end the pandemic through vaccinations that it’s become their bread-and-butter issue.

Choosing to keep the pandemic alive to gain a political advantage is a complete betrayal of the public’s health and safety. It’s deplorable.

Wyoming has lost more than 1,000 people to the coronavirus. Instead of promoting a safe, effective and free vaccine that will keep them out of hospitals, Republican leaders have pushed malaria drugs and horse dewormers on their faithful followers.

In reality, Biden’s so-called “mandate” isn’t one at all. It would create two options for employees at businesses with more than 100 workers: get the vaccine or take a COVID-19 test once a week. Both would create a safer work environment.

How is that different from requiring certain workers to pass drug tests, wear seatbelts or not smoke in the office?

If employees think their rights are being violated by having a swab put up their nose, I have news for them: There are plenty of other people ready to do their jobs and respect the health of their co-workers.

It’s far past time for Wyomingites to get vaccinated. Sadly, I can guarantee you that this disease is not a hoax: I’ve lost two people close to me from it in the past year. One had some underlying medical issues and died before the vaccine was available. The other was young and had been healthy his whole life. He chose to not be vaccinated.

Only 41% of Wyoming residents are fully vaccinated, giving the state one of the lowest rates in the nation. The Department of Health says 96% of the COVID-19 patients filling Wyoming hospitals are unvaccinated.

The misinformation being circulated about the vaccine is incredible. Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: The vaccine does not contain microchips. It does not alter your DNA. It does not turn you into a magnet. It does not affect fertility in either sex. It does not infect you with COVID-19.

Misinformation spread by right-wing outlets like Fox News, NewsMax and the OAN Network; on social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; and the conspiracy theories your crazy uncle spouts are deadly, too. The World Health Organization deems it an “infodemic.” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said the problem “poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health.”

Why are so few people in Wyoming listening?

Gordon’s initial reaction was to call Biden’s decision a “complete disregard for the rule of law and the freedoms individuals and private companies enjoy under our Constitution.”

But the governor hasn’t called the special session he was considering. There’s absolutely no reason to bring lawmakers back to work now. Federal law is supreme, so no matter what the state does, it’s likely to be upheld in court.

Now Gordon has Eathorne breathing down his neck. I’d tell the chairman to take a hike.

Gordon won’t, of course. He’s walking a political tightrope, trying to please his party’s right wing because he sees it as his path to re-election.

Governor, here’s advice you don’t want to hear: Your party leaders decided long ago that you’ll never be conservative enough to get their support. They haven’t forgiven you for beating their candidates, Foster Friess and Harriet Hageman, in 2018. You will have primary challengers, and guess what? Some Democrats who changed parties to vote for you won’t do it again. Neither will many of the moderate Republicans I’ve talked to.

So why not do the right thing, stop this anti-vaccine madness and protect everyone? It will earn people’s respect. Bringing an end to this pandemic will do what Wyoming needs most: return the state to normal.

The Drake’s Take is a weekly column by veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake, and produced by WyoFile.com, a nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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