So, I have a confession to make. I really liked Janet Mills’ inaugural address.
That probably isn’t a huge surprise. Shortly after she gave the address, I applauded her in these pages. Her levelheaded, sensible approach was a welcome contrast to those offering soaring rhetoric divorced from concrete steps and, well, reality.
The motif of that speech — reiterated numerous times since that date — was simple. “Welcome home.”
She went so far as to remove former Gov. Paul LePage’s “Open for Business” sign at the entry to our state in favor of her chosen motto. That will probably be an enduring change; every future governor will skirt Maine’s billboard law to announce the theme of their administration.
But it is a little hard to square a sign telling visitors “welcome home” with this week’s announcement concerning would-be tourists.
With everything else going on with the world, you would be forgiven for missing it. On Monday, Mills updated her “reopening” plan. Tourism-based businesses — responsible for 1 out of 6 jobs in Maine — waited with bated breath.
They were let down.
To the administration’s credit, they were trying to find an alternative to a mandatory quarantine. Their solution?
Beginning July 1, visitors from 47 states, excluding only New Hampshire and Vermont, are able to come to Maine. As long as they have papers.
Anyone attempting to check into Maine lodging will need to sign an official state document — subject to criminal penalties — stating that they completed a 14-day quarantine after crossing the border, or received a negative novel coronavirus test result in the 72 hours before they came here.
It seems a far cry from “welcome home.”
For better or worse, back in late April, the Mills administration had circled “July 1” on the calendar as the moment of hope for hospitality. That was the magical moment when we could welcome those “from away” back into Maine.
But it is hard to say “welcome home” to would-be visitors and simultaneously ask them to fill out government-mandated paperwork, lest they be subject to criminal penalties. That holds doubly true when thousands of Mainers are plainly violating Mills’ order prohibiting groups of 50 or more from gathering by staging mass protests.
This isn’t to say that protestors should be arrested for violating the executive orders. They should not.
But the same prosecutorial discretion offered to protestors should be extended to travelers. A small subset of the protestors, who turned themselves into rioters and looters, was rightly arrested. Rather than simply tell every American that they are a threat to Maine, the Mills administration should focus on the subsets who present elevated risks.
That is the approach Florida has taken, maintaining a quarantine for those arriving from the New York City area while opening up commerce to those with lower risk profiles.
It is a more nuanced approach. More than 25% of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States are attributable to New York and New Jersey. It makes complete sense to have more stringent requirements for people from those areas.
Yet, if the motto of the Mills administration is going to remain “welcome home,” we need to find something other than paperwork to offer as a welcome mat. And we need to treat our guests no worse than those protestors exercising their right to peaceably assemble.
“Welcome home.” It is a great message. Let’s put it into action, and find a way to give it real meaning.