At least 400 people — few wearing masks and most not heeding social distancing — gathered Saturday at the Yakima Speedway to demand Gov. Jay Inslee reopen the state’s economy.
Speakers at the “Americanism: A Call to Action” event questioned both the legality and logic of Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order to limit the spread of the coronavirus and the plan for reopening the state’s economy.
“Yakima Speedway is closed, and my (car) dealership is partly closed,” said Doug Betteral, who provided the space for the event, “but a mocha stand or a dope shop can be open.”
Sandi Belzer, the organizer of the rally, considered the Saturday afternoon event a success. She estimated the number of attendees at between 800 and 1,000, noting that people were coming and going during the three-hour program.
A count showed about 400 people attending the event. Many pro-President Donald Trump signs were there, as well as Gadsden “Don’t tread on me” flags and a sign comparing Inslee to Adolf Hitler.
Belzer said the event was organized shortly after a May 1 protest against Inslee’s order in Yakima. Getting speakers such as gubernatorial candidate and Republic police Chief Loren Culp, state Rep. Jim Walsh of Aberdeen and Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer on short notice was amazing, she said.
Songer, telling the crowd that “the governor is not my boss” said it was imperative that businesses reopen.
“If we don’t get our businesses open in the state, we are going to go broke,” Songer said.
Mark Petersen, owner of H&H Furniture in Yakima, told the crowd that people were in lines for food because the stay-home order had put them out of work.
“A lot of (small business owners) are forced into economic ruin. They are never going to open again,” Petersen said. “That’s pointless suffering and it’s all done for political reasons. You can’t tell me that this COVID germ knows enough to stay away from Walmart, that it doesn’t go into Boeing’s union shops or government bureaucratic offices and will go into your barber and get all in your hair and kill you.”
Tim Lantrip, who owns Sundance Espresso in Selah, said Inslee’s order has cut into his business revenue but has not alleviated any danger to him and his employees. Under the governor’s order, Lantrip cannot offer dine-in service, but he can still serve coffee from a drive-through window, meaning he and his employees are still dealing with people.
Last week, he decided to reopen the sit-down area of his coffee shop in defiance of the governor’s order. He also conducts non-denominational worship services at his coffee shop on Sundays.
“It is time for us to grow our spines back, take our country back, take our state back and open up,” Lantrip said.
A similar rally is planned Sunday in Selah.
Walsh told the crowd that Inslee, in enacting his orders, was putting administrative code before the state’s constitution or laws. Specifically, he focused on a provision of the administrative code that allows for mandatory quarantines, testing and contact tracing in the event of an emergency.
While the state has kept such things voluntary, Walsh said there is still a risk that Inslee or the state Department of Health could make those steps mandatory without the consent of lawmakers.
“We will run bills to rein in the governor’s powers in a declared emergency,” Walsh said. “We will look at our neighboring states, and while some say 30 days, I say 10 days, and after that the governor has to meet with the Legislature to extend it.”
Culp said Inslee has “moved the goal posts” with the order and reopening plans.
Inslee’s office didn’t immediately respond Saturday. The state Department of Health announced Friday that four additional counties could move to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan. They are Adams, Grays Harbor, Lewis and Spokane.
Inslee on Friday urged people to keep working diligently to protect their families and communities.
“We have made tremendous progress in this fight and I know this has been extremely difficult for everyone,” he said in a statement. “Our collective efforts have protected health and saved lives.”