When it comes to does-he-or-doesn't-he, I don't trust Gov. JB Pritzker.
Then-and-now photos tell the tale: Does this look like someone who hasn't had a haircut since barbershops closed in March? Nearly a month ago, the governor declared that he'd sworn off barbers for the duration: "I'm going to turn into a hippie at some point," he promised when Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, deservedly, absorbed slings and arrows for getting her hair done while telling constituents to stay home.
The subject recently resurfaced during a gubernatorial press briefing: Have you gotten a trim? "I'll end up wearing a ponytail at some point," the governor answered without saying yes or no.
The question would not have been asked if the governor's hair looked anything like mine, or a few others I've seen either on Zoom or during trips to the supermarket – these days, bad hair should be a badge of honor. Politics doesn't work like that, I guess, and in the range of what might kill us, coiffed hair lies below suggestions that a swig of Lysol might ward off germs. You can comb over a lot, and maybe that is what Pritzker has done.
But, overall, the governor, so far, has done well.
The bar isn't high. Pat "Soy Boy" Quinn might be going off on tangents and putting people to sleep. It is not hard to imagine Bruce Rauner thundering at Michael Madigan, no matter what. Rod Blagojevich? We'd see late-night news broadcasts delayed by ongoing afternoon press conferences and perfect hair.
Especially early on, Pritzker's has been a voice of reason. Back when Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder acted more lemming than leader, prone to bar hopping when risk was obvious, the governor intervened: A St. Patrick's Day parade? Are you kidding?
Pandemic-wise, Pritzker is to Donald Trump as caviar is to dog shit. Last week, our president swore off press briefings, prompting bored bookies to offer attractive odds on how long the boycott would last. Not long, it turned out.
We live in a time when politicians pontificate on finer points of epidemiology while the press drinks it in, some reporters gulping Kool-Aid, others going for gotcha. Pritzker, better than Trump – but so is my pug – has shown up every day, and he shows no sign of stopping, no matter how silly, repetitive or pointed questions get. Aside from executive orders, daily press briefings from the bunker previously known as the Thompson Center have been the governor's main means of communication. He's been good, but he hasn't been perfect, either in deeds or spin.
I wish that Pritzker would have tried harder to stop the St. Patrick's Day primary, which went ahead despite grave projections. While we went to the polls, Ohio postponed. Two weeks after the election, a Chicago poll worker died. Instead of saying that he had no legal authority, Pritzker should have sought support from legislative leaders and constitutional officers, then canceled the election and defended as best he could any lawsuits. At worst, blame could be deposited at the state Supreme Court. At best, Pritzker might have won. Sure, it might have been a Hail Mary, but I once saw Doug Flutie throw a pass.
I wish that Pritzker's approach was less Chicago-centric. Nutballs who've crowded at the Capitol in Springfield, demanding liberation, feed stereotypes, but not everyone outside Cook County is nuts. Allowing recreational marijuana sales while backing bans on drive-in church services with appropriate precautions signals a governor who either doesn't get it, doesn't care or doesn't trust churches. The governor shouldn't be so quick to blame locals for failures by the state public health department, which hasn't always ensured that accurate, up-to-date information is posted on state web pages that are supposed to tally cases and deaths in nursing homes, plus provide locations of testing sites. It has taken too many days to get information posted about deaths and testing in Springfield and environs.
What should someone with an underlying condition do if an employer demands a return to work under the governor's relaxed stay-at-home order scheduled to take effect Friday? Call the union or the state Department of Labor, Pritzker advises, as if unions, outside government, are commonplace and the state could do anything – the Wall Street Journal and other dispassionate sources say that such employees have little recourse. The governor has vowed to tell hard truths. He should have said "Sorry, I can't make any promises, so do your best."
This week, Pritzker, fresh from an interview on the Today show, went Trump when a reporter asked if he was grandstanding by lashing out at Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Nowheresville, who'd just won a court ruling that nullified the governor's stay-at-home order. "That's a ridiculous question," the governor seethed. It was a fair question.
Still, Pritzker shut down the state quicker than most other governors, and that's surely saved lives. Mostly, he's looked and sounded like a leader. Pandemic wise, no one knows what will happen next, and so the governor is on untested limbs, which helps explain why political enemies have largely remained quiet. There is plenty of time to shoot the man in the arena. Meanwhile, I wish I could see hair splashing over the governor's ears. If nothing else, that would make me feel better.