Former US Ambassador to the UN gave her 10c worth on coronavirus from the perspective of having been a governor herself. What she says is not dissimilar to that of Australia and the federal-state relationship.
“Overheated critics of President Trump accuse him of being an authoritarian. Of not caring about checks and balances, civil rights, and constitutional limits on executive power. And yet, today, many of these same critics demand that he nationalize supply chains, deploy the military on our shores and shut down every town in America. It’s a curious thing.
The coronavirus presents enormous national challenges that call for a strong federal response. But we should not lose sight of the essential role that states and governors must play. America is better served when presidents respect the diversity of states instead of dictating uniform solutions.
As a governor, when you take the oath of office to serve your state, you don’t know what will come your way. During my six years as governor of South Carolina, I dealt with a thousand-year flood, damaging hurricanes, a racially driven church shooting, a white police officer who killed an innocent black victim, and a school shooting.
When times were calm, we would try to get ahead of the curve, holding regular meetings with my emergency team to make sure we were up-to-date on supplies, procedures, logistics and technology. We learned the importance of planning and to control what we could.
I was a Republican governor with a Democrat in the White House. We disagreed on most policy matters, but we put those differences aside to serve the immediate needs of our joint constituents. You don’t serve your people if you let politics get in the way.
If you know a crisis is coming, one of the first things a governor will do is reach out to the White House to coordinate F.E.M.A. relief before it hits. Then, when the trouble arrives, everyone is on the same page.
F.E.M.A. typically sends a liaison who coordinates efforts and assesses vulnerabilities. It’s technical stuff. It requires knowing your own state and building a relationship with those on the federal level who apportion resources. It takes time, effort and foresight.
Once a crisis hits, state responsibility is primary. The federal government can provide crucial resources, but the burden is on the governor and her team to distribute them. No two states are alike, and blanket approaches won’t work.
In today’s crisis, governors from both parties have exemplified strong leadership. They know their residents and their state’s needs better than anyone in the federal government. In the state-federal partnership, governors are in the best position to control what happens on the ground, better than any president could be.
Governors know their state’s mayors and local officials who facilitate aid distribution. They know their local national guard leadership, which in many cases provides essential logistical support. They know their business leaders, who are being called on to uproot their production and services while keeping as many people employed as possible. They know their hospital administrators, who have eyes on the front-line heroes in this war. And they know the leaders of their faith communities, who often spearhead life-saving humanitarian projects.
As our highest nationally elected leader, of course President Trump has enormous responsibility in this unprecedented crisis, and he is marshaling the federal response on a massive scale. But in implementing plans to save people’s lives and keep our economy afloat, look no further than the governors.
They have complicated and difficult jobs. In this crisis, as in any, some are showing their competence and leadership, while others are revealing their shortcomings. It’s true that states shouldn’t have to compete, to bid against each other for supplies at inflated prices. And party politics shouldn’t factor in disbursing federal resources to states. But, most often, this is not the case. Governors who complain about the Trump administration are, in some cases, attempting to distract from their own failures to plan and execute.
Governors are the most successful when they are given the flexibility to lead. The federal government can provide the resources, but it should not take away too much flexibility. New York is not New Mexico. South Dakota is not South Carolina.
Our Constitution has it right: Keep control and decision making close to the people. We are seeing that play out in every state today. We face a painful challenge, but we will get through it. When we do, we will look back and see that governors rose to meet the challenge, and they did it best when Washington did not impose too much on them.”