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From School Boards to the Senate, All Politics Is Virus Politics in 2020 – The New York Times

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The coronavirus pandemic upended Pamela Walsh’s life. It shut down her office, leaving her working at home from a folding table. It forced her to turn her dining room into a Zoom classroom for her 7-year-old son. And the virus propelled a still more unlikely change: It led Ms. Walsh to run for public office.

“It wasn’t even on my radar screen,” said Ms. Walsh, 47, a political adviser in Concord, N.H., who has long worked for Democrats but never before considered seeking elective office herself. Months of supervising elementary school lessons from home, with little idea of when her son would return to school, convinced Ms. Walsh that she should vie for a seat on her local school board.

“I decided I needed a voice like mine on the board,” Ms. Walsh said in a phone interview, which she muted periodically as her son called out for her and at one point thumped a bat on a chair. “Everyone is struggling right now a bit and needs to be represented by how these policies impact real families.”

By some measure, all politics is virus politics in 2020, and the federal government’s handling of Covid-19 has become an explosive issue in the presidential race, which has been further complicated by President Trump’s own hospitalization for the virus.

Yet around the nation, there are local and state races in which the pandemic has also taken an outsize role. In some cases, the virus has been the reason for running; in others, handling of the pandemic has become the defining issue, eclipsing ordinary matters of taxes and services.

The virus — and the government’s response to it — has inspired parents, hair salon owners and others to run for the first time, turned sleepy races into competitive matches and injected a level of unpredictability and rancor into normally tranquil down-ballot contests.

Credit…Elizabeth Frantz for The New York Times

“This is an issue that no one expected to be one of the pillars of this election, but it has clearly become one,” said Robert Griffin, research director for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, which is partnering with academics at the University of California, Los Angeles, to poll about 6,000 Americans each week leading up to the election.

Mr. Trump’s own bout with Covid-19 only intensified some of the debates over the issue in lower races. “If you, Mr. President, have the best health system in the world and bodyguards and the whole thing, and you still get it, what does that say for us at the local level who are trying to figure out what to do with our children?” asked José Luis Bedolla, 50, who said he was motivated to run for the school board in Berkeley, Calif., because of the pandemic.

Candidates’ own cases of the virus have created all sorts of uncertainty for political races, yanking campaigns off the trail and into quarantine during crucial weeks and confounding political strategists, who have little precedent to lean on as they try to figure out how voters will respond.

In North Carolina, a race that could help decide control of the United States Senate was thrust further into limbo this month when Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican, tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a White House ceremony. At the same time, his opponent, Cal Cunningham, is contending with a texting scandal.

In Missouri, where average new daily cases have risen sixfold since mid-June, the governor’s race is being defined in no small part by the pandemic. Gov. Mike Parson, the incumbent Republican who is leading in the polls, had resisted requiring people to wear masks and at times campaigned without one. Then last month, he came down with the virus himself.

As Mr. Parson was sidelined, his Democratic opponent, Nicole Galloway, wished him well while also soliciting donations in an effort to remind voters of their dueling positions on the virus. An online ad showed her wearing a blue mask, side-by-side with a barefaced Mr. Parson.

“Governor Parson has failed this test, and it’s apparent,” Ms. Galloway said in an interview. An accountant by training and the current state auditor, she has made public health a key issue in Zoom appearances, uses elbow-bumps on the campaign trail, and has said she will issue a mask requirement if elected.

Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Credit…Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Elsewhere, conservatives have made their opposition to mandates on masks and business closings the center of blossoming campaigns.

In Washington State, a small-town police chief has made Gov. Jay Inslee’s handling of the pandemic a top issue in a long-shot bid to become the state’s first Republican governor since the 1980s. The chief, Loren Culp, has criticized Mr. Inslee, a Democrat, as a “job killer” and is drawing a contrast by holding rallies where masks are not required.

In Texas, a salon owner who was jailed this spring for defying shutdown orders quickly became an anti-lockdown hero for the political right. The owner, Shelley Luther, spoke at rallies, gave Senator Ted Cruz a haircut and donned a T-shirt emblazoned with the popular Texas rallying cry “Come and Take It” — except in place of a cannon, there was a blow dryer.

Now, Ms. Luther, a former high school teacher who has never held public office, is running as a Republican for a seat in the Texas State Senate.

She has put Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of the pandemic and his virus-related restrictions at the forefront of her campaign. The outrage over her jailing was so intense that Mr. Abbott, a fellow Republican, softened his own shutdown orders and removed confinement as a punishment.

Running in a largely rural Republican district northwest of Dallas, Ms. Luther has called Mr. Abbott “our tyrant governor” at campaign events. One of her ads showed the black-and-white security footage of the moment she was handcuffed as she looks into the camera and says, “I fought back, and they backed down.”

Credit…Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press

“It’s about time that we the people take this back into our hands and let the government know that they work for us and they should not be telling us what to do like this,” Ms. Luther said last month on the talk show “America, Can We Talk?”

And then there was this wrinkle: Her main opponent, a Republican lawmaker, State Representative Drew Springer, was sidelined for days during the race; he had to quarantine after his wife tested positive for the virus. Ms. Luther won 164 more votes than Mr. Springer during a recent special election, and the two are now in a runoff set for December, to represent Prosper, Texas, a Dallas suburb that is one of the fastest growing areas in the state.

Restrictions to control the spread of the virus — or the lack of such restrictions — have become motivating factors in races of all sizes.

Adrian Perkins, the mayor of Shreveport, La., had no plans — and no money — to run for United States Senate at the start of this year. But he grew increasingly frustrated as the coronavirus swept through his city, sickening thousands and leaving many others unemployed. He tried ordering everyone to wear masks but got sued for that.

So Mr. Perkins, a 34-year-old Army veteran and Harvard Law School graduate, began a last-minute, long-shot bid to go to Washington, where he felt he could have more sway. He announced his candidacy in July, two days before the registration deadline.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times
Credit…Melinda Deslatte/Associated Press

“No sane person launches a Senate campaign on purpose with just 110 days,” said Mr. Perkins, a Democrat who is running to unseat Bill Cassidy, the senior Republican senator from Louisiana. (Mr. Cassidy, a medical doctor, tested positive and recovered from the coronavirus this summer.)

Mr. Perkins’s campaign says he has raised $1 million in just a few months, but his odds are long. His opponent, who already had more than $6 million on hand by the time Mr. Perkins entered the race, has a solid lead in a mostly red state.

But the long shot is worth it to Mr. Perkins, who grew up in Shreveport and described the federal government’s missteps in response to the pandemic as the reason for his campaign.

“Without the coronavirus, I wouldn’t be running,” he said, adding, “It’s people’s lives that were on the line.”

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Latin American Politics

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On Oct. 18 Bolivians elected Luis Arce, the presidential candidate of the former President Evo Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism party and his chosen successor. Some saw the victory as a call for Mr. Morales to return to the government. But perhaps the electoral landslide may be better understood as an example of how to move forward in the wake of a tumultuous year for the world. It’s also a lesson on how similar movements weighed down by the baggage of past leaders can keep political relevance — without their looming influence.

As a candidate, Mr. Arce signaled his willingness to turn the page on Mr. Morales, whose controversial tactics and unconstitutional bid for a fourth presidential term ended in his expulsion from the country last year after the military called on him to step down. Mr. Arce committed to a return to the stability and inclusion that defined much of Mr. Morales’s government. With the more moderate Mr. Arce on the ballot, the Movement Toward Socialism party, or MAS, actually outperformed expectations — increasing its share of the vote by eight percentage points over last year’s results.

Ultimately “MAS did not win because of Evo but in spite of Evo,” tweeted Pablo Solón, the former United Nations ambassador during Mr. Morales’s tenure.

Mr. Morales was among a wave of leftist leaders who came into office in the 2000s, when their countries’ economies were buoyed by high commodity prices. Mr. Morales used the windfall to reduce poverty and expand the middle class. But from Bolivia to Ecuador to Argentina, the good times were followed by corruption scandals, attacks on the press, power grabs, debt-induced recessions — and eventually shifts to the right.

These leaders continued to influence national politics after leaving office, and their polarizing quests for comebacks threatened to undermine the very movements they helped start.

“Lingering ex-presidents prevent the nation from moving on,” Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College, wrote in Americas Quarterly in 2018. “Liberating countries from their influence is a collective good because it helps with leadership renewal.”

Mr. Arce’s victory signals that renewal is possible. He has distanced himself from Mr. Morales, saying the former president’s bid for a fourth term was an “error.” He vowed that Mr. Morales would not have a role in his government.

Mr. Morales resigned last year, after his attempt to win a fourth term sparked unrest and ended in a contested election, in what some have called a coup. But if leaders like him can pass the baton to less polarizing figures, they may be able to inject new life into their political movements.

In fact, Mr. Morales’s absence helped energize, rather than weaken, MAS, the Bolivia-based journalist Pablo Stefanoni contends, writing that the crisis surrounding his departure “enabled the rise of a new group of leaders” whose ascension had been limited during Morales’s government.

It’s not easy to convince popular leaders who have had a taste of power, and who often seek a return to office as relief from the legal problems they face, to move on. In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, besieged by numerous corruption charges, was expected to pursue a third presidential term in 2019 but reversed course after polls suggested she’d lose. Instead, she promoted Alberto Fernández, a law professor and former chief of staff seen as less ideological, as her party’s candidate, and instead ran as vice president. He won by a large majority.

In Ecuador, the former President Rafael Correa is following the same playbook. His political movement nominated Andrés Arauz, a 35-year-old economist and former government minister, as its candidate for February’s presidential election. Mr. Arauz’s chances may depend on how much distance he can put between himself and the polarizing Mr. Correa, who in April was sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges.

Other leaders may see themselves as the only ones who can defeat their opposition. In Brazil, there is talk that the former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva may run for president in 2022. But while Mr. da Silva remains a larger-than-life figure in Brazilian politics, he would be 76 by the time he runs, and his support has its limits — enough only to get him to a second round in an election, where polls say he’d lose to President Jair Bolsonaro. Passing the baton to the new leaders emerging under Mr. Bolsonaro’s presidency may be a better bet for his Workers’ Party.

The lesson does not just apply to left-wing parties. In Argentina, the former President Mauricio Macri’s center-right coalition will likely try to stage an electoral comeback in the 2023 presidential election. But, given his deeply unfavorable view among voters, his party may be more likely to find success by championing someone else.

Polls suggest that person may be Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta of Buenos Aires. Though some critics say he lacks charisma, Mr. Rodríguez Larreta’s reputation as an efficient manager has made him one of the most popular political figures in the country. It would be another example of a less polarizing figure offering a fresh start for Mr. Macri’s political project.

While Mr. Arce’s victory in Bolivia is cause for optimism, over time his effort to turn the page on Mr. Morales may become a cautionary tale. As Mr. Corrales wrote, successors who take over from outgoing leaders walk a tightrope.

“When a president betrays a campaign promise — in this case, the promise to carry the torch from a predecessor — they disappoint two groups: those who wanted continuismo, and those who wanted real change, with the latter never becoming convinced that you are a true convert,” Mr. Corrales wrote.

To repair the worst elements of Mr. Morales’s 14-year presidency, Mr. Arce will need to strengthen institutions that for years were manipulated to benefit the former president. Similar successors to popular but polarizing figures, like Lenín Moreno of Ecuador and Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, chose to pursue limits on re-election, for example, as one method of institutional reform.

If Mr. Arce can make positive institutional changes, while navigating Bolivia’s complicated politics and troubling economic panorama, he may be able to govern with the best of MAS’s values, tackling poverty and celebrating Bolivia’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity without Mr. Morales’s divisiveness and strongman tendencies. Ultimately, that could help him create his own legacy and set an example for political movements across the region.

Brendan O’Boyle (@BrenOBoyle) is a senior editor at Americas Quarterly, a publication on business, politics and culture in Latin America. He has studied the region for a decade and has lived in Buenos Aires, Quito, Ecuador and Mexico City.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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Commons showdown highlights tension between politics and science – Kelowna Capital News

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Monday’s vote on a Conservative motion to launch an in-depth review of the Liberal government’s COVID-19 response highlights a key challenge of pandemic politics: how to hold a government accountable for decisions based on science, when the science itself is changing nearly every day.

The opposition wants a committee probe into everything from why regulators are taking so long to approve rapid testing to an early decision not to close the border to international travel, and what concerns the Liberals is how that probe is being framed.

“One of the narratives that I find most distressing coming from the opposition, is that somehow because advice changed at some point that the government was hiding information or that the government was giving misinformation,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said late last week.

“And nothing could be further from the truth.”

It’s not the science itself that’s up for debate, said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

“In a pandemic, borders, since the Middle Ages, have been part of a stop of spreading of the virus and that was a failure of elected officials to put the health of Canadians first,” O’Toole told reporters last week.

“There has been conflicting information on masks and other things. My concern is that the Trudeau government relies more on open source data from China than our own science and intelligence experts.”

The relationship between a nation’s scientists and their senior politicians is a challenging one, said Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides the scientific evidence there is, but at the end of the day, it is the politicians who make the call, he said.

A decision on whether or not to close the borders is a good example, he said.

In the early days of the pandemic, the World Health Organization cautioned against widespread border closures. Scientific research has suggested there’s little medical benefit to them and the economic impacts can be severe and wide-ranging.

READ MORE: Companies warn Tory motion could deter domestic production of PPE

But the optics of border closures, the idea that if countries can keep out a virus out they will be immune, creates political pressure to act, Culbert said .

“The tension between what is in the public’s good, as opposed to all of the varying political considerations the politicians have to take into consideration — there’s always a tension there,” Culbert said.

While heated, the interplay between Liberal government and Opposition Conservatives is a far cry from the hyper-partisanship around pandemic response in the U.S., where even the president has circulated misinformation and challenged that country’s top scientists.

Canadian researchers studying the response of political elites here in the early days of the pandemic found no evidence of MPs casting doubt on the seriousness of the pandemic, or spreading conspiracy theories about it. In fact, there was a cross partisan consensus around how seriously it needed to be taken.

“As far as we can tell, that story hasn’t changed,” said Eric Merkley, a University of Toronto political scientist who led the study.

Both he and Culbert said a review of the Liberals’ pandemic response is warranted, but a balancing act is required.

“Everyone has 20/20 hindsight and thinks that they can go, look back, and and point to points at which bad decisions were made,” Culbert said.

“But that’s with the knowledge that we have today. We didn’t have that knowledge back in March.”

The Liberals have sometimes hit back at criticism by pointing to how the previous Conservative government handled the science and health files, including budget cuts and efforts to muzzle scientists.

But critics can’t be painted as anti-science for asking questions, Merkley said.

“There’s plenty of scope for democratic debate about proper responses to the pandemic, there’s plenty of scope for disagreement,” Merkley said.

“And just because there’s that disagreement and an Opposition party holding government accountable, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that’s a sign of a healthy democracy.”

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


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Commons showdown highlights tension between politics and science – Trail Times

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Monday’s vote on a Conservative motion to launch an in-depth review of the Liberal government’s COVID-19 response highlights a key challenge of pandemic politics: how to hold a government accountable for decisions based on science, when the science itself is changing nearly every day.

The opposition wants a committee probe into everything from why regulators are taking so long to approve rapid testing to an early decision not to close the border to international travel, and what concerns the Liberals is how that probe is being framed.

“One of the narratives that I find most distressing coming from the opposition, is that somehow because advice changed at some point that the government was hiding information or that the government was giving misinformation,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said late last week.

“And nothing could be further from the truth.”

It’s not the science itself that’s up for debate, said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

“In a pandemic, borders, since the Middle Ages, have been part of a stop of spreading of the virus and that was a failure of elected officials to put the health of Canadians first,” O’Toole told reporters last week.

“There has been conflicting information on masks and other things. My concern is that the Trudeau government relies more on open source data from China than our own science and intelligence experts.”

The relationship between a nation’s scientists and their senior politicians is a challenging one, said Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides the scientific evidence there is, but at the end of the day, it is the politicians who make the call, he said.

A decision on whether or not to close the borders is a good example, he said.

In the early days of the pandemic, the World Health Organization cautioned against widespread border closures. Scientific research has suggested there’s little medical benefit to them and the economic impacts can be severe and wide-ranging.

READ MORE: Companies warn Tory motion could deter domestic production of PPE

But the optics of border closures, the idea that if countries can keep out a virus out they will be immune, creates political pressure to act, Culbert said .

“The tension between what is in the public’s good, as opposed to all of the varying political considerations the politicians have to take into consideration — there’s always a tension there,” Culbert said.

While heated, the interplay between Liberal government and Opposition Conservatives is a far cry from the hyper-partisanship around pandemic response in the U.S., where even the president has circulated misinformation and challenged that country’s top scientists.

Canadian researchers studying the response of political elites here in the early days of the pandemic found no evidence of MPs casting doubt on the seriousness of the pandemic, or spreading conspiracy theories about it. In fact, there was a cross partisan consensus around how seriously it needed to be taken.

“As far as we can tell, that story hasn’t changed,” said Eric Merkley, a University of Toronto political scientist who led the study.

Both he and Culbert said a review of the Liberals’ pandemic response is warranted, but a balancing act is required.

“Everyone has 20/20 hindsight and thinks that they can go, look back, and and point to points at which bad decisions were made,” Culbert said.

“But that’s with the knowledge that we have today. We didn’t have that knowledge back in March.”

The Liberals have sometimes hit back at criticism by pointing to how the previous Conservative government handled the science and health files, including budget cuts and efforts to muzzle scientists.

But critics can’t be painted as anti-science for asking questions, Merkley said.

“There’s plenty of scope for democratic debate about proper responses to the pandemic, there’s plenty of scope for disagreement,” Merkley said.

“And just because there’s that disagreement and an Opposition party holding government accountable, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that’s a sign of a healthy democracy.”

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


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