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Guest Column: Greenville County’s Coronavirus Crossroads

How would aspiring county leaders address the challenge?

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by MITCHELL GUNTER ||  South Carolinians, and the nation as a whole, have been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the latest SCDHEC numbers, there are over 112,000 total possible cases in South Carolina, of which, approximately 17,000 are in Greenville County. Moreover, 575 people statewide have lost their lives to this deadly disease, with the national death toll numbering over 109,000.

Those of us fortunate enough to have been kept safe from the ravages of the disease itself have been pummeled by the economic devastation resulting from the subsequent closure of businesses. Many have lost business, had savings depleted and experienced furloughs and layoffs. Some local businesses, including gyms and hair salons, have teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.

As South Carolinians rebuild the economy across the state, it is now vitally important that our elected representatives within Greenville County have a coherent plan to mitigate the worst effects of COVD-19 – protecting those most susceptible to the disease while bolstering the economic recovery of local businesses and upholding liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.

In an effort to communicate to voters a cross-section of the stances candidates for Greenville County Council hold ahead of November’s election, I was fortunate enough to interview candidates across party lines in Greenville County’s highly contested District 20 race following Wednesday’s Republican primary results.

Steve Shaw, Republican, is a real estate and estate planning attorney and owner of Steve Shaw Law in Travelers Rest. Shaw frequently volunteers as a State Constable and publishes annual additions of a book dedicated to South Carolina firearms law.

Farris Johnson, Democrat, is a LGBT community organizer and former organizer for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. Johnson is a Clemson University alumnus who previously worked as university support staff and a teaching assistant.

Each candidate was asked how Greenville County, and South Carolina as a whole, should move forward with re-opening in a manner that protects the most vulnerable without hamstringing businesses and undercutting citizens’ livelihoods.

“I would marshal all Greenville County resources to directly assist businesses in getting back to pre-shutdown commerce,” Shaw said. “I would use existing departments and personnel to immediately create a one-stop office or website where business owners can go to easily discover what help is available.

“Government should be proactively looking to serve businesses as opposed to simply saying you can’t do business,” Shaw added.

“Decisions regarding re-opening should be made in accordance with the FDA and CDC’s recommended practices,” Johnson said. “When driven by guidance from public health experts, safe re-opening will protect not only our lives, but also our livelihoods.”

Delving deeper into the struggles many businesses and organizations are experiencing in their attempts to re-open, candidates were also asked about U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s efforts to protect businesses from “coronavirus lawsuits.” Dozens of South Carolina small businesses, including manufacturers, truckers, and retailers, have reported concern about re-opening out of fear of these legal actions, prompting Senator Graham to propose crisis liability shields, similar to what was done in the aftermath of 9/11.

“Yes, businesses want get back to business after this government-imposed shutdown without worry of getting wiped-out by a Covid-19 lawsuit,” candidate Steve Shaw affirmed.

“Business owners that take reasonable measures to protect their employees and the public are already protected from liability lawsuits, and we ought to leave those individual determinations to the courts, rather than providing immunity,” Johnson said, dismissing the idea. “We cannot rob workers and families of their legal safeguards against exploitation.”

Lastly, candidates were asked about the suspension of constitutional rights as a component of a pandemic response, specifically in the case of the state of Michigan’s lockdown, in which Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray stated, “Most, if not all, individual constitutional rights are not absolute and are subject to a balancing with the countervailing state interest.”

“I think citizens themselves are capable of balancing their own freedoms versus a deadly invisible viral enemy,” Shaw said. “Government emergency powers should only be very temporary to handle an immediate emergency and then automatically removed.”

Johnson had a divergent take.

“Even in cases of strict lockdown, our constitutional liberties have not been suspended,” Johnson said. “We are often asked, and sometimes even legally required, to do things that impose on personal choice for the sake of our Constitutional charge to ‘promote the general Welfare.’”

As the general election for Greenville County Council approaches on November 3, voters will have to decide which candidates best represent their interests in rebuilding Greenville County, the state, and even the nation as a whole in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: Provided)

Mitchell Gunter is a freelance journalist whose work on political issues in higher education has been featured on national programs including Fox Business, The Drudge Report and “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” Mitchell holds a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from Clemson University and lives in Mauldin, South Carolina.

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