EDITORIAL: Big decisions: Outbreak shows importance of making best possible votes

Public service is always a challenge, and we applaud those who have entered the arena that is both difficult and rewarding. But the challenges of protecting both public freedoms and public safety obviously are greater during times of crisis, when those two basic rights can clash. The world is not black and white, and the current viral outbreak is a case in point.

The Rio Grande Valley hasn’t dealt with a crisis like the global coronavirus in more than a century, but officials have had to make tough decisions regarding approaching hurricanes, such as whether to order evacuations or let residents make their own decisions.

The current pandemic is different, as one person’s willingness to take any risks of going out in public could endanger everyone with whom that person comes in contact, if that person unknowingly has contracted the disease and doesn’t yet show symptoms. Many people, health officials say, can spread the virus without ever showing symptoms, or they are so light that they are simply considered a light cold.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, as well as county judges and other officials have endured criticism lately, first as they sought to mitigate the economic impact of their orders to self-quarantine and close businesses and now as they try to ease the restrictions they had imposed. However, no cure or vaccine yet exists for the coronavirus, and while it is hardly noticed by some people it kills others.

In essence, this new virus serves as a fulcrum, with public health at one end and our economic health at the other. It makes every official’s decision a gamble, and once it’s made we’ll never know what might have happened if the decision had been different.

This is something that should be considered by all the critics who believe either that their rights are being unfairly restricted or that premature reopening of society risks allowing the pandemic to grab a new foothold and regain strength. We have to accept that when we elect people into office, we entrust such decisions to them. We might not like every call they make, but the calls are theirs. We might have chosen differently, and our decisions might have worked out better.

Or they might have been worse.

Such is the nature of our republican government, and it should bear consideration as we advance toward the scheduled November elections. Our votes aren’t simply a popularity contest; they are a choice that determines our communities’ future, and whom will be entrusted with deciding that future.

Casting informed votes is important at all levels. With respect to the pandemic, we now have a president who has suggested we might be ready to start reopening our economy, as long as we practice caution. State governors have responded positively like Abbott here in Texas, while others have said their states aren’t yet ready. And even within our state, county judges and mayors are making their own decisions and recommendations.

We can assess incumbents’ performance, and consider their challengers’ statements of what they might have done differently. But ultimately, Election Day determines who gets to make the decisions.

We will live by the choices we make. Let’s endeavor to make the best choices possible.