Libertarians, some GOP say government mandates worsen pandemic crisis


AURORA | Local Libertarians pushing back against stay-at-home orders say they can be counted on to defend individual freedoms and condemn government overreaches — especially during a global pandemic.

As Gov. Jared Polis extended the statewide stay-at-home order until April 26, Aurora and metro-area Libertarians urged the governor to raze the directive, while mostly encouraging people to stay indoors.

“It is our duty to question government now more than ever,” said Regan Benson, a Denver resident and Libertarian.

Polis’ order was originally set to expire on April 11, but the governor extended the mandate to keep limiting a wide range of activity and travel throughout the state. Work and travel is limited to “essential” activities and businesses including grocery stores and hospitals, but also gun stores, marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores.

“All people in Colorado must follow the letter and the spirit of these orders. Do not try to bend the rules or find loopholes,” the Governor’s website reads, justifying the statewide order.

Some state Republican officials, including George Brauchler, 18th Judicial District attorney, have criticized the Governor’s stay-at-home order for arbitrarily deciding which business should remain open or closed.

“Government tools are powerful, but they cannot solve this pandemic,” Brauchler wrote in a guest column for the Denver Post.  “Stay-at-home orders, criminalizing handshakes, and shuttering businesses can only buy time for our health care system to respond and private labs to find a treatment. Trillions of dollars in rescue payments can only prop up — and barely — an economy devastated by fear and uncertainty stemming from the spread of the virus and made worse by government orders.”

Victoria Reynolds, chairwoman of the Libertarian Party of Colorado said the orders should be scrapped entirely.

Reynolds said people who can stay inside should, or otherwise practice social distancing.

But she said the stay-at-home order is “absolutely unnecessary” because most people would do so even without the government telling them to.

“I think we’re capable of taking care of ourselves,” Reynolds  said. “Last I looked, Mr. Polis was not my mommy.”

She said she and her neighbors around her Sedalia home are consolidating grocery runs for senior residents and checking in on each other. In her view, at-risk people such as the elderly and immune-compromised people should especially stay at home to protect themselves — but the decision should be theirs alone.

“That’s why we live in a free-market society where people can do as they please,” Reynolds said.

Libertarians aren’t alone in pushing against pandemic mandates.

In March, as local health departments pushed ahead of Polis to enact stay-at-home orders and close some businesses, Douglas County area Republicans revolted.

Some elected GOP officials insisted Republicans on the Douglas County Commission be fired for supporting the mandates and wanted the county to leave the Tri-County Health Department pact.

“Unelected bureaucrats should not have the unilateral authority to simply decide to enact policy that would imprison citizens for 18 months and fine them $5,000,” GOP state Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Highlands Ranch, said in a tweet. “This is outrageous and will only lead to less social distancing as people panic buy.”

Reynolds and Jon Caldara, president of the libertarian-leaning think tank Independence Institute, said no government should impose such wide restrictions on economic activity and individual liberty. They also say the order is doing more harm to the economy and local businesses than the pandemic would without a mandate, even though they agreed with staying home.

It’s an idea that has garnered pushback from Polis and public health experts recommending shut-down orders.

“If we don’t take these actions that we are taking today, and frankly, if you don’t stay home, this will create a much worse economic disaster with greater disruption, greater loss of jobs for a longer period of time,” Polis said at a news conference when declaring the original stay-at-home order March 25.

“If you don’t do enough about the virus, you’re going to get steamrolled by it — which would also steamroll the economy,” Jeffrey Shaman, a data scientist at Columbia University, told the Associated Press.

Caldara, Reynolds and other self-described Libertarians who spoke with The Sentinel most lamented what they called blind obedience to the order on the part of the public.

“What concerns me most from the … order is how people are not questioning it and complying,” Caldara said.

“The most depressing part of all of this is how people have turned against each other,” said Regan Benson, a Denver Libertarian. “They have turned into narcs.”

Benson said she is disregarding the stay-at-home order and continuing about her business.

“It really means nothing to me,” she said. “It means I live my life, I do what I want, without hurting others.”

Benson added,  “I’m not doing anything in direct defiance. Am I trying to get arrested? Heck no.”

For Benson, the order is government overreach but also downright harmful for people. She said she was recently grocery shopping and saw a senior citizen struggling to haul groceries across a parking lot.

“No one would help her,” she said.

Benson said she drove over, loaded the woman’s groceries into her car and gave her a ride home without worrying whether the interaction would get either of them sick.

Interactions like these have garnered criticism for Benson, she said. Other Libertarians are calling for her to stay home but stopping short of calling police on others for apparently violating social distancing guidelines, she said. She thinks these Libertarians are betraying their political beliefs.

Elliot Goldbaum, director of strategic communications for the liberal-leaning Colorado Fiscal Institute, urged exactly that. He called for people to put aside their ideological convictions about government orders and rely on the advice of public health experts.

State public health experts said Monday Colorado is still in the early phases of the pandemic and urged more social distancing to keep hospital beds open for sick patients.

Meanwhile, Reynolds said she expected lawsuits against the order on behalf of business owners with enterprises in dire straits, or lost altogether, because people are staying home.

She encouraged Coloradans to reconsider the gravity of the  stay-at-home order.

“I’m just very scared that our liberties have been taken away, and the government will remember how easy it was to take them away,” Reynolds said.