Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling Credit: Gabor Degre

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Phil: A few weeks ago on the radio, you gave Gov. Janet Mills an 8 out of 10 in scoring her response to COVID-19. Are you still giving her such a vaunted score now that you have seen her flip-flop and delay the full re-opening of gyms, dentist offices, and restaurants?

Ethan: Yup.

Phil: Even though countless eligible Mainers still have not received unemployment benefits and she is being sued for trying to force tourists to stay inside for 14 days.

Ethan: You needed to get that off your chest. Feel better?

Phil: Even though her actions have resulted in almost 140,000 unemployed, and the permanent shuttering of 50 to 100 businesses, and sparked at least a projected half billion dollar deficit for the next fiscal year?

Ethan: Pause, take a deep breath, I don’t want you having a heart attack. I need you to finish this column.

Phil: And then she announces she’ll buy food, at state prison prices from businesses she refused to let open, after she had told them they could. You can’t make this up.

Ethan: You done yet?

Phil: Just answer me this. How does anyone look at the economic actions of this administration and label it competent?

Ethan: Because there is one piece of data you are leaving out. Maine has the lowest per-capita death rate on the entire eastern seaboard and for all of New England. Indeed, other than West Virginia and Tennessee, Maine has the lowest frequency of deaths this side of the Mississippi!

Phil: Wouldn’t you agree that the rural nature of our state and following the guidelines produced those statistics?

Ethan: You mean President Donald Trump’s guidelines, which came a month too late and were supposed to be sufficient to get us open by Easter? No. Nor is it correct to say our death count is so low because we are rural. States with fewer people per acre, like the Dakotas and New Mexico, are losing people at a higher rate. Mills has been a steady hand with her focus squarely on keeping people alive.

Phil: Obviously, keeping people alive is what we all want.

Ethan: Please tell me there isn’t going to be a “but” coming next.

Phil: But…

Ethan: Oy.

Phil: …there are a lot of ways the government could interfere in our lives that would save lives. Government could ban cars, and we would have no car deaths. They could ban cigarettes, and lung cancer rates would plummet.

Ethan: They could ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines, and we’d certainly have fewer gun deaths. I’ll take that one.

Phil: And that’s the point. We have to find balance. Nearly 100 deaths in Maine is heartbreaking, so is destroying a thriving economy resulting in tens of thousands of families on the verge of never getting back on solid financial footing.

Ethan: Had Mill not acted as forcefully, we would be looking at a minimum of 500 deaths by the summer. And that’s simply a projection based on her implementing the shutdown a single week later. Imagine if she had waited two weeks or done nothing.

Phil: No one is saying do nothing. Some of us are simply saying wield your power with more deference to those who are suffering the unintended consequences. On that same radio program, I gave Mills high marks for her initial actions, steady and firm. But those actions have morphed into being erratic and insensitive to the plight of family businesses.

Ethan: Insensitive and erratic! I think you forgot that Paul LePage is no longer the governor.

Phil: LePage erratic? I know not of what you could be speaking.

Ethan: Look, we may need to simply agree to disagree on this one, but I see a leader who uses science to make decisions. Sometimes that means recognizing that you have to change course and take the heat for doing so. That is what I want in my governor.

Phil: Where you see leadership from the Blaine House, I see someone who needs to listen to the people on Main Street. People who are asking for their economic lives to be part of the statistics she uses in making decisions.

Phil Harriman served as a town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling served as mayor and state senator from Portland.