Coronavirus shutdown protests are coming to this region this week — something Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly can’t afford to take lightly.

Protests by conservatives seem to upend the world order, or at least the national media’s world view. It seems like protesting by conservatives just isn’t ever considered legitimate.

And that’s when the protests have been peaceful and tidy. Can you imagine if tea party activists had defecated on a police car, as an Occupy protester was seen doing?

There always has to be something or someone else behind a conservative protest other than righteous anger or justifiable angst. They must be cuckoo or racist or some kind of phobic. They must be Nazis. Any kind of organizing or coordination of conservative protests at all is seen as a sign that there’s a puppeteer or financier behind it all. That makes it all illegitimate, nothing to take seriously. How neat and comforting.

Couldn’t it just be, though, in the case of the coronavirus shutdown protests erupting across the nation, including those coming to Kansas City, Topeka and Jefferson City, that there are legitimate arguments to be made and desperate concerns to be aired? That the shutdown restrictions may be too tight and may be choking the economy to death? That some prohibitions may go beyond what’s necessary or even constitutional? That once taken, freedom is seldom if ever given back?

Sorry, but the view that the cure could end up being worse than the disease is a valid one. Indeed, the United Nations is predicting hundreds of thousands of children could die, and tens of millions more slip into deep poverty, from the global economic shutdown-downturn.

While I’ve agreed with most of the stay-at-home orders to this point, our leaders have to be humble enough to realize that they didn’t just come down off the mount with the Ten Commandments. They don’t have all the answers. They have to accept that there are disagreements to be voiced on the manner, duration and legality of their shutdown orders.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is Exhibit A, with her ban on crossing the street to visit neighbors, for heaven’s sake.

I do think it’s not a great idea to stage mass protests at this time — it risks spreading the virus even more, and thus could not only endanger lives but could perversely result in the need for a longer shutdown. Besides, I suspect Gov. Kelly isn’t going to learn anything from a protest that she doesn’t already know.

Neither should she dismiss them out of hand. With unemployment claims lagging badly and federal small business loans running out quickly, small business owners and their employees are increasingly despairing. I certainly understand why the protests are breaking out, especially when families and businesses are desperate just to survive. The pressure will be on protesters to be responsible and social distance themselves, so nothing else breaks out.

The protests should put added pressure on Kelly, if it’s needed, to produce a plan for reopening the state’s economy, just as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce did this past week — and as President Donald Trump and some other states’ governors are moving to do. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Friday announced a “strike force” to fashion safe reopening procedures, which will include a quick loosening of elective surgery restrictions and allowing retail stores to provide product pickups, much as restaurants have turned to curbside delivery.

Kelly was arguably ahead of the curve on closing the schools for the rest of the academic year, which other governors hemmed and hawed about for weeks before belatedly doing. She gave parents, students and educators a leg up on filling the void.

But unless she moves quickly to unveil a plan, the governor risks being perceived as behind the curve on reopening the economy. If she is, it will be that — and not her measured, at-the-vanguard actions to protect the public — that will be what she’s remembered for. If so, that sudden light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel will end up being, for her, a train.

Public safety is still paramount. But the public mood can’t be ignored, either.


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