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  1. Opinion

Coronavirus’ message to voters: Elect competent people | Editorial

Pandemic underscores need for smart choices at the ballot box.
Voter Dave Oldani, 55, left, wears gloves as he enters the polling place as an election deputy dons a protective mask and gloves while holding the door outside of the Bay Vista Center on election day in the Florida presidential primary on Tuesday in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Last week’s elections in Florida underscored another lesson of the coronavirus pandemic: The importance of electing competent people to public office. Beyond choosing the political parties’ nominees for president, voters also elected mayors and city council members in communities across the state. While those are the lower rungs of the government food-chain, Americans have seen almost overnight the incredible role that governors, mayors and other local officials play in managing these crises. It’s a reminder to make smart choices in federal, state and local elections in November based on competence, not political party affiliation.

The history of what President Donald Trump did right and wrong with this outbreak will be written at some point, and it will not be flattering. But there is plenty of blame to go around, here and abroad, for government, institutions and average people alike. The crisis has reverberated far beyond the federal government and down to the states, as governors and mayors confront the fears and risks on the ground and grapple to balance public health and panic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been engaged and visible, and he has wisely put emergency managers, health care officials and local leaders at the forefront of the state’s response. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman have stepped up in their communities by imposing restrictions on restaurants and public gatherings. Pinellas officials dealt with the difficult decision to close beaches. If anything, locally elected officials have been at the vanguard of containing the spread, cancelling major events, closing schools, libraries and community centers and breaking up large groups - whether that’s inmates at the county jail or packs of spring breakers on the beaches.

These are consequential decisions with far-reaching impacts that in crises like these must often be made in a vacuum and on the fly. That’s why it’s vital that the people we elect and trust with these responsibilities - whether it’s a governor, legislator, mayor or sheriff, much less a president - have the experience, judgment, connections, people skills and common sense to lead in a crisis. And there are other elected officials at the local level - the court clerk, tax collector and elections supervisor, for example - who may fly under the radar by performing mostly ministerial duties. But they are essential cogs in keeping society running and government projecting a sense of normalcy.

The pandemic has created a national yearning, as Americans look to the government, like some never did before, to protect them, their families and their way of life. The government still has an important role as the safety net when other systems break. The crisis that exploded into a new dimension this week should refocus voters on the consequence of elections. Somebody always wins. More than ever, we see the value of basic competence, human compassion and a steady hand.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news