Lauren Boebert has put herself on a potentially confrontational path with state health officials and possibly the governor himself.
The Rifle restaurateur has joined a growing national movement to reopen businesses in violation of government orders.
Elon Musk is the face of the movement. On Monday the Tesla founder restarted his huge San Francisco Bay area factory despite being told not to by the Alameda County Health Department.
Before Musk made headlines, Shelley Luther was in the national spotlight for refusing to shut down her Dallas salon and ultimately going to jail for it. Last Friday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, got his hair cut there on the first day hair salons and barbershops were allowed to reopen in Texas.
Interestingly, Cruz had put himself into self-isolation for two weeks in March after coming into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Yet he seemed to go out of his way — flying from Houston to Dallas for the haircut — to support a business that had become a rallying cry for conservative protests against coronavirus lockdown orders in Texas.
The same tension — pitting public safety and the rule of law against the need for commerce — is playing out in Colorado, first with a Castle Rock coffee shop that defied state health orders and opened to the public on Mother’s Day, and now with Boebert’s Shooters Grill in Rifle, which began serving dine-in customers on Saturday.
For consistency’s sake, Polis seems obligated to order the Colorado Department of Public Health to pull Boebert’s license to operate. That’s what happened after a widely publicized video of C&C Coffee and Kitchen was shared nationally on social media, featuring dozens of patrons not practicing social distancing nor wearing masks, including House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, who had strongly criticized Polis’s stay-at-home order as too draconian.
But the fallout of Boebert’s actions are far from clear. Unlike the Castle Rock coffee shop, Shooters is operating at 30% of capacity and servers are wearing gloves and masks. The restaurant appears to be in line with the same rules as Mesa County eateries after Mesa County health officials obtained a variance from the state health board.
So, Boebert’s operation isn’t “anything goes.” But is it a “willful, flagrant violation” that could get state health officials involved?
After all, Garfield County hasn’t yet applied for a variance so Boebert shouldn’t be serving customers indoors at all, regardless of the safety precautions she’s directed her employees to take. In fact, Garfield County commissioners are concerned that Boebert’s defiance could jeopardize the county’s chances of getting a state waiver of its own.
The issue is further complicated by an enforcement question. Mesa County Public Health, for example, has taken no official action in regard to Bananas Fun Park reopening, though there have been questions whether Bananas fits into any category of businesses authorized for reopening. A Mesa County Public Health spokeswoman said, “Voluntary compliance is always our preferred action.”
The Sentinel’s Dennis Webb asked who would make the call on whether Shooters will be allowed to remain open.
“Counties typically lead on enforcement actions,” the Colorado Department of Health and Environment replied in an email. “If the state chooses to also take action, that doesn’t preclude the county from doing so. Typically the state will get involved when there has been no county action to suspend/close a violating facility — or when there are willful, flagrant violations.”
It sounds as if the state may wait for Garfield County health officials to do something and if they don’t, then the state could get involved. But there’s a final extenuating circumstance that could come into play. Boebert is a Republican candidate for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District seat currently occupied by Scott Tipton.
The governor may be reluctant to shut down a candidate’s business simply to avoid raising their profile during an election. It would only invigorate the “Don’t tread on me” message that is the polar opposite of the buy-in the governor needs to reopen the state’s economy in a safe, incremental way.
Boebert told Garfield County commissioners she understands the potential consequences. “I am willing to take a risk for my people.”
The politics of this tension between business owners and the state are now overt. The risk Boebert is willing to take is mitigated with a healthy dose of publicity for her campaign.
The optics are simply irresistible in this reality-show existence in which we now all live: A Democratic governor shutting down a restaurant in rural Colorado whose schtick is open-carry firearms?
If nothing else, Boebert has a Trumpian flair for the dramatic.