Dan Forest's tenure as North Carolina's lieutenant governor has required little more than an empty suit. He gets almost $200,000 a year and his only real duty is to gavel the Senate to order when it's in session. I've witnessed his performance on many occasions; he has never started on time.
But such irrelevance has been good for Dan because he gets to do the one thing he's good at: mugging for the cameras. We call him Photo Op Dan and he's really quite accomplished. On any given day for the past year, you could find Forest kissing white babies, pretending to care about farmers, sucking up to veterans, and more. If a pretty boy is what you want in a governor, Dandy Dan fits the bill.
Unfortunately, the Trump Pandemic hasn't provided the optics Forest needs to fuel his campaign. So rather than helping Governor Cooper manage the most challenging situation we've faced in a hundred years, Forest is looking for things to do ... and doing them badly.
We learned yesterday, for example, that Forest wants to begin discussions about reopening the economy. No one would be surprised if Forest is involved with the ReOpen NC anti-vaxxer crowd, who, like Donald F. Trump, is ready to kill more people so they can get back to work.
If Dan were just irrelevant, no one would really care. But he's not. He's creating busy work for professionals striving to keep North Carolina safe. That's dangerous.
On Tuesday, Forest sent a letter to Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, with a list of 10 pieces of information to tackle. Forest wants the state to track the age of everyone who died, the number of people who have recovered and the "demographic data” of all people tested for COVID-19, among other things.
In the letter to Cohen, Forest wrote that state officials have done an "admirable" job of slowing the spread of the virus. "Now, it's time to start planning how to rebuild. We must repair North Carolina's economy, which has been seriously damaged by our response to COVID-19," Forest wrote.
North Carolina doesn't need Dan Forest mucking up the work of rebuilding and recovery. His actions are always political and they don't bode well for someone seeking our highest office. On March 17, for example, Forest questioned Cooper’s executive order banning dine-in food service. Later that same day, Forest clarified that he questioned the legality of the order, not whether Cooper's decision was the right one. And yet he voted against it.
Then five days ago, Forest suggested in a radio interview that some of the coronavirus information being presented to the public is flawed.
“We’ve got to start making determinations about how to get back to life based on real data, and I think we’ve seen a lot of data out there that’s a bit faulty and certainly a bit biased and certainly not the full story," Forest said. Asked which data points are "faulty," Forest's campaign didn't give a direct answer. Instead, Forest spokesman Andrew Dunn referred WRAL News to the letter to Cohen.
You want to know why states, including ours, don't have all the data they need? Because the Trump administration has mismanaged literally every aspect of America's pandemic response. Instead of being prepared to impose a full-scale testing regime, Trump Republicans dithered and delayed to the point that we still don't have adequate testing anywhere in the country.
Additionally, Forest suggested on radio that the media might be misleading the public about the severity of the issue. “I try to remind people ... The media, the newspapers and the TV stations, they’re in the business to sell advertising, and panic and fear gets people watching, and that sells advertising for them," Forest said in the clip. "So, while on one end, you may think they’re trying to provide you a public service announcement about what’s going on, they’re still in the advertising business and the viewership business," Forest said, adding, "Fear and panic stokes viewership and advertising dollars to them."
The economic slowdown has actually taken a significant toll on media companies, as the New York Times and Fox News have reported. While some media companies are indeed enjoying high viewership, the downturn means there are fewer companies with money to spend on advertising.
State Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, said he has "no idea" what Forest was talking about on the radio show.
"And I don't think he does, either," Jeff Jackson said. 'He's just looking for an attack to get some attention, and I guess he thinks casually smearing the scientists we're working with is a good one."
If you want to understand what Dan Forest will do next, all you need to do is watch Donald F. Trump. Trump wants to "reopen" America for ego and political reasons by the end of this month, but has no idea what that would actually mean. He also has no idea how many people will get sick and die from prematurely lifting restrictions. Dan Forest supports whatever Trump does. I have yet to hear him express a single criticism of Trump's criminal administration.