OPINION: It’s time to reopen Kentucky

The Kentucky Derby shows that Kentuckians are ready to get back to normal.

Over the last year, we’ve seen how leaders around the nation have concentrated power in their offices as they’ve struggled to combat the coronavirus. Governors in New York, California, and here in Kentucky have used this power irresponsibly, ignoring their legislatures and, lately, the science on reopening schools and the economy. Our people have seen the coronavirus ravage our communities, the worst unemployment crisis in the nation, and a governor threaten to send police to follow churchgoers who violated his government mandates.

As the Commissioner of Agriculture for Kentucky, I have traveled the state these last few weeks listening to the pain in the voices of restaurant owners and other small business leaders as they have described to me the economic catastrophe they’ve experienced over the last year. One of the hardest hit industries in the United States has been the restaurant industry, a market for many of our small farmers. Some estimates show that as much as 10 percent of America’s restaurants have closed their doors forever. Unfortunately, for many in Kentucky, their cries have fallen on Governor Beshear’s deaf ears.

While strong, conservative governors like Tennessee’s Bill Lee and Florida’s Ron DeSantis have fully re-opened their states, Governor Beshear is holding Kentucky’s economic engine hostage. He recently announced that he would lift some restrictions (read: not all) if 2.5 million Kentuckians got a COVID-19 vaccine. A recent report from the Lexington Herald-Leader showed it is unlikely Kentucky reaches that goal before the end of June at the current rate of vaccination. Some estimate it could even be August.

That is absolutely unacceptable.

The Governor’s response? Grocery stores should provide some free groceries and restaurants and other industries should explore whatever monetary incentives they can offer to get their customers to get the vaccine. You heard that right: his suggestion is for one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic to distribute monetary incentives, like gift cards, to get people vaccinated. As if, they had the money after a year of economic strife! What a bonehead idea.

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