As lieutenant governor, I am one heartbeat away from the governor’s chair. I am also a small business owner. My family and I own four small businesses in the restaurant and automotive industries, employing hundreds of Idahoans. As a former member of the Idaho House of Representatives, I represented a district in eastern Idaho for many years and was viewed as a champion of small businesses and entrepreneurs.
My reputation and current position have many constituents asking me why small businesses and entrepreneurs — who make up the backbone of Idaho’s economy — are largely underrepresented in the governor’s COVID-19 advisory committees, task forces and economic reopening committees.
I lose sleep at night because the heavy hand of our government is hurting so many Idahoans. Idahoans were sidelined and left to watch silently as the government closed Main Street by unilaterally deciding which businesses were essential and which ones were not. By deciding that certain goods can only be purchased at certain places, or not at all, our government has been selecting economic winners and losers throughout this pandemic.
The effects of the executive branch’s unilateral decisions will impact us for years. Now we are being told that if we attempt to salvage our livelihood, if we attempt to open our businesses to put food on the table for our families, if we have the courage to “defy” the reopening plan our government imposed upon us, our business licenses will be at stake.
Now more than ever before, we are in a moment where political courage is mandated. We must not be afraid to stand up for all businesses large and small — including all of those thousands of businesses without a voice or a paid lobbyist. You can find those businesses on Main Street in every town in Idaho. We must stand up for the livelihoods of hardworking Idahoans. We must have the courage to tell it straight: Realistically, there is a segment of our population that will remain at risk during this pandemic and there may be a spike in COVID-19 cases as we reopen. I agree that we should do all that we can to protect our vulnerable citizens, as well as our frontline workers. But there are other facts to consider: This shutdown is taking a financial toll on Idahoans. Thousands of Idahoans still haven’t received unemployment or were denied Small Business Administration and Paycheck Protection Program loans and grants.
For some businesses that did receive a PPP loan, the government policy places the forgivable portion of those loans at risk. When these businesses are not permitted to open until mid-June at the earliest, it will be beyond the time limit required to tap into some of those funds, according to the U.S. Treasury. With bills quickly mounting and no income coming in, there has been a spike in bankruptcies, suicides, depression and businesses that will never open again. We must begin to examine those facts — as well as the health-care-related data the governor is focused on — to properly evaluate how to move forward. I hope the governor’s business task force will take all of these facts into consideration, not just the medical facts provided by cabinet members.
While most Idahoans supported the public safety aspect of the governor’s stay-at-home order, the one thing that is missing in all of this is the confidence that Idahoans are smart enough to put in place public health protocols so they can reopen their business, welcome customers and take care of their employees. The governor campaigned on a promise of imposing the “lightest hand of government” on Idahoans. To me, this means getting out of the way and letting Idahoans get back to work.