On Monday, August 2, six Republican state senators plunged deep into the abyss.
On Tuesday, August 3, the political world they influence received a grim human reminder of just how deep.
The subject was COVID-19 vaccines. The six senators had called upon Missouri Governor Mike Parson to convene a special session of the General Assembly to prohibit businesses in the state from requiring their employees to get vaccinated.
One day later came a heartbreaking social media post from just about as conservative a Republican — Representative Sara Walsh of Ashland — announcing that she and her husband, Steve Walsh, had contracted COVID-19. Worse, Steve Walsh, communications director to Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, was in the hospital fighting for his life on a ventilator.
Sara Walsh told a Springfield TV station that she and her husband had chosen not to take the vaccine because it had not been approved by the FDA. She also said she had friends who had negative reactions to the vaccine, and she was not concerned about being vaccinated because she had been healthy since the pandemic began. Now, she was home with her own virus symptoms and asking for prayers.
“Friends, please pray for my precious husband Steve Walsh. He is very sick and is in the hospital. We serve a miracle working God and tonight please help me get prayers lifted up for Steve’s healing and recovery.
"Steve is my sweet love and my best friend in the whole world." One day earlier, the six senators had placed both their politics and their piety ahead of any concern about unseen human tragedies like those of the Walshes. The six senators are Bob Onder, Lake Saint Louis; Bill Eigel, Weldon Spring; Rick Brattin, Harrisonville; Denny Hoskins, Warrensburg; Mike Moon, Ash Grove; and Holly Rehder, Sikeston.
“Over the past several weeks Missouri employers have signaled their intention to require employees and staff to have received the COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. In other words — get the shot or lose your job,” they wrote to Parson. “This is concerning to a wide cross-section of Missourians.”
The letter continues, “It’s not our job to force it nor it the job of businesses and employers to force the vaccine. Our job is to safeguard the rights and liberties of the people we represent.” So that’s your “job,” eh? Say, as opposed to any “job” you might have as elected officials to protect the collective public health of Missourians during a once-in-a-century pandemic?
Call this what it is: the pro-death caucus. Because even in the hopeful event that the Walshes survive their nightmare, there are an immeasurable number of Missouri families perhaps not so lucky, thanks to these losers having done their “job.” They’re killing people.
Unlike the Senate reprobates, Missouri businesses large and small are filling the vacuum abdicated by a state government dominated by the likes of Onder and Eigel (the St. Louis area contingent of the dirty half-dozen). Those companies have acted based upon the advice of medical experts to protect the health and safety of their employees and customers.
Once upon a time, the Republican Party prided itself as the guardian of business. Now, this particular wing of wing nuts has found a higher purpose: protecting employees from being protected by their employers. And, of course, preserving that sacred liberty of citizens to endanger the health of others.
Thankfully, Parson seems to have rejected his right flank’s nonsense out of hand, at least for the moment.
“Do you require somebody in private business, that owns their own business, to tell them whether they can do a mandated vaccine or not? So far, we’re not going to go down that road,” Parson said. “If that business decides they want to do that, we’re going to allow them to do that in this state until something changes to show us differently.”
OK, so that wasn’t the boldest statement on record in response to a proposal of abject stupidity. And unlike more enlightened governors, Parson wouldn’t even consider any form of vaccine requirement for state employees. And, of course, he has been among the worst of the worst in handling the pandemic.
But hallelujah! Give this man some credit for discovering an out-of-bounds line.
Perhaps Parson was helped to see the light by one of the most powerful conservative and Republican interest groups in the state: the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. Dan Mehan, its president, said it "stands against attempts to place reckless new restrictions on the state’s business community.
"Employers have long had the ability to mandate vaccinations and the Missouri Chamber believes all employers should continue to have this right when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine," Mehan said. "An employer’s ability to mandate vaccination is supported by state law, federal law and the courts. While there are encouraging signs that vaccination is on the rise in Missouri, we need this trend to continue as we work to contain the Delta-variant outbreak. We don’t need new roadblocks to recovery."
Speaking of recovery, prayers and good wishes have flowed forth to the Walsh family across party and ideological lines, as well they should. Here’s how the Columbia Tribune reported that: “Reached briefly by phone Friday, Sara Walsh was coughing and requested to communicate by text.
"I am humbled and grateful for the overwhelming number of people throughout our state and nation who are standing with me in prayer for my husband," she wrote. "I have received hundreds of messages of love and support. Steve's name has been added to countless church prayer lists and our pastor held a prayer service last night. There is power in the mighty name of Jesus!
"Steve's health is gradually progressing in the right direction," she continued in the text. "I am making great improvements at home. I am standing on God's promises and praying for Steve's complete healing. Please continue to lift up my husband and the medical workers in prayer."
But there was also this: “She didn't address a question texted to her about whether either of them now regretted not getting the vaccine.”
It’s understandable that Walsh didn’t respond to that inquiry, although good for the Tribune for giving her the opportunity to join a sad and growing list of people who are sharing testimonials about the consequences of not getting vaccinated. Hopefully, Walsh’s husband will recover and return to his post handling communications for Hartzler, who is running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat due to be vacated in 2022 by Senator Roy Blunt.
Ditto for Walsh, who has entered the race to replace Hartzler in Congress. What a fine happy ending it would be for them to resume their lives fully and to attest publicly to lessons learned. That would be a good story.
Too bad it wouldn’t be good politics.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).