New Mexico Gov shuts down traffic in and out of an entire city

Normally when you hear about a Democratic governor doing an imitation of a medieval empress these days you probably think of Gretchen Whitmer. But she’s got some competition in that category this week and it’s coming from New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D). In response to a significant spike in COVID-19 cases in the city of Gallup, the Governor not only put everyone on lockdown but ordered a halt to almost all traffic in and out of the city. Gallup isn’t really all that large (population 21,929 as of 2018), but it’s big enough to notice when all commercial and personal travel to and from the city is suddenly brought to a halt. (The Hill)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced she is putting the city of Gallup on lockdown after a spike in coronavirus cases in the area.

The governor said in a statement that starting Friday at noon she is closing all roads leading into Gallup from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily and that vehicles can only have two people maximum. Residents of the city are encouraged to stay in Gallup except for emergency outings and trips essential for health, safety and welfare…

“The spread of this virus in McKinley County is frightful,” said Lujan Grisham, “and it shows that physical distancing has not occurred and is not occurring. The virus is running amok there. It must be stopped, and stricter measures are necessary. A problem in one part of our state, with a virus this dangerous and this contagious, is a problem for our entire state.”

To be fair to the Governor here, Lujan Grisham didn’t take this action singlehandedly. The city is in the midst of changing mayors, and both the previous mayor and the new one asked the Governor to take this action. And the request clearly wasn’t made on a whim. The city has reported more than 1,000 cases of the disease, representing nearly five percent of the population. They also account for more than a third of the reported cases in the entire state.

Still, the language she chose to use in this announcement sounds more like a school teacher scolding unruly students than an informative public announcement. She’s taking “stricter measures” because the residents aren’t practicing social distancing.

But can the Governor simply shut down almost all vehicular traffic with a wave of her hand? She claims she has the authority under the state’s Riot Control Act. In issuing executive order 2020-027, she declared that “All roadways providing access to the City of Gallup shall be closed and only Gallup residents, those who work in Gallup, and members of the media shall be permitted entry into the municipality.”.

So this is different than other governors who have “urged” people to avoid all nonessential travel. The State Police are checking all vehicles on the road outside of normal business hours and drivers will need to show a valid reason for commuting if they wish to enter or leave. We saw a similar situation when the Governor of Rhode Island attempted to stop all cars with New York license plates entering her state. After being challenged, she backed down on that order.

This order has an even larger impact on the Native Americans of both the Navajo Nation and the Zuni Pueblo people. Their leaders are livid over this order. Gallup is the only city within a reasonable travel distance where most of their people can go shopping for groceries and other necessities. Closing off access to Gallup is going to create an emergency situation for many of them almost immediately.

We’ll need to keep an eye on this situation as it develops. This is one of the harshest restrictions on free movement via executive fiat that we’ve seen from any governor thus far during the pandemic. Rather than simply encouraging the new Mayor of Gallup to work with his citizens and promote greater compliance with social distancing requirements, she’s just bringing the hammer down and sending in uniformed troopers to enforce her decree. I’m guessing there is a limit as to how much of this sort of behavior people are going to tolerate.