The moves of DeSantis, Ducey and others like Texas’s Greg Abbott — who contracted the coronavirus himself this week — have pushed the envelope. And they very notably come, in the cases of DeSantis and Abbott, in states bearing the brunt of the delta-variant surge.
But to the extent that these mask mandates infringe upon people’s rights and don’t actually work — as the most vehement mask-mandate critics allege — that’s apparently news to some of these politicians’ fellow GOP governors.
Even as some Republican governors have pushed against mask mandates, others have allowed for them and even encouraged them, with some tempering their previous opposition.
In Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) has declined a statewide mandate, but this week he praised schools that choose to pursue them.
“I think the schools that are putting mask mandates into place are making a wise decision when the facts warrant it,” Holcomb said. “I’m not surprised by the pushback having lived through the last year and a half.”
In neighboring Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has said he doesn’t have the power to enact a mask mandate himself, but this week he encouraged local school districts to enact them. He called efforts to ban such mandates “a serious mistake.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) would seem to agree, given that he has called his own state’s ban a mistake. Earlier this month, he said he regretted signing a bill on the matter and called for action to rectify the situation, saying, “The exceptions for which I am asking are true to the conservative principle that puts control in the hands of local government.”
There have also been some accommodations in other states where GOP governors have shunned school mask mandates.
In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said last month that he didn’t support students wearing masks because case numbers in the state were “just that low.” Last week, though, the state government issued a threat matrix advising local areas on when to implement mandates.
Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt (R) is one of those governors who signed a ban into law. But last week, when two key districts implemented mandates despite the law, he praised them for allowing parents to opt out for their children in limited circumstances.
“I appreciate that school districts like Santa Fe Charter Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools are respecting parents’ rights to decide what is best for the health of their children and opt out of mask requirements if they choose,” Stitt said.
Another Republican governor in a deep-red state has entertained a mandate. West Virginia’s Gov. Jim Justice indicated last week that he was considering a mandate, before saying this week that there would be no statewide mandate at this time. But Justice said that could change if the situation worsens.
What’s more, he appeared to criticize fellow Republican governors for taking those options off the table.
“The last thing we need to do is fragment ourselves and start mandating against mandates,” Justice said.
The GOP push against school mask mandates is indeed fragmenting — including when it comes to public opinion, and not in a positive way for the GOP. Recent polling suggests that 7 in 10 Americans support school mask mandates, and even more — 77 percent — oppose the kinds of maneuvers Ducey is pursing and DeSantis suggested to combat them.
For now, those more aggressive anti-mask-mandate moves are being pursued by the big names — those eyeing a potential future on the national political stage. But the picture among GOP governors nationwide is much more nuanced. Few are calling for mandates — and almost nobody on a statewide base — but they are also not really talking about this as an issue of personal freedom or a lack of efficacy.