Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo took a bold and appropriate step on Friday, announcing plans by the state to pull over drivers with a New York license plate and forcing individuals from the state to self-quarantine for 14 days.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo came on strong, attacking Raimondo and threatening to sue Rhode Island. “I don’t believe it was legal, I don’t believe it was neighborly,” said Cuomo in his daily briefing. Raimondo appeared to back down, not putting up a fight with her bigger counterpart and giving in to peer pressure.
Then, a turn of events: Raimondo announced that the move would be extended to any out-of-state driver. “Yesterday, to keep all Rhode Islanders safe, I signed an executive order imposing a quarantine on all visitors from any state, by any mode of transportation who are coming in [to] Rhode Island for non-work purposes and plan to stay,” Raimondo said.
That’s a sweeping change, and a dramatic one, but the appropriate action. I advocated a week ago for Rhode Island to close its borders entirely (save for non-essential travel), and while this does not quite rise to the same level, it has the same effect.
Raimondo must prioritize the lives of Rhode Islanders, and forcing visitors to quarantine once they arrive does just that. It limits the spread of the virus in the state while still allowing some mobility for those who need to cross Rhode Island’s borders.
But where Raimondo blundered is in the execution of this directive. First, targeting New York state alone would be ineffective; this virus doesn’t follow borders, and someone who lives in Newark but commutes into New York City for work is just as likely to have contracted the virus as someone with an apartment on 34th Street.
Targeting New York is also unnecessarily vindictive. It pitted Raimondo up against one of the most powerful politicians in the country at this moment, and few could sustain that kind of pressure.
So instead, Raimondo flip flopped, first giving the impression that the order would be nixed in its entirety before making it clear that it was being expanded to all visitors. On one hand, it’s a smart political and public health move.
But on the other, Raimondo screwed up the execution and missed her opportunity to look like a leader in a time of crisis. Instead, she looked like she was cowering in the face of adversity, pushed around by the governor next door.
Ultimately, the executive order signed by Raimondo is smart, and does amount to the leadership needed in this moment. But by changing positions one too many times, Raimondo confused her political messaging and gave off the wrong impression: A governor too scared to stand up to her regional counterparts, even if, in the end, she is.
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