March 20, 2020 12:00pm

Lexington poll members very worried about coronavirus.

Survey finds serious concerns about public health and economy; Beshear's leadership praised, Trump's panned.

Photo of Tom Eblen
Lexington, KY Correspondent

Lexington Power Poll members are very worried about the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of public health and its impact on the economy.

Most poll respondents this month — a total of 100 of 257 members, or 39 percent —had good things to say about Gov. Andy Beshear’s leadership during this crisis. As for President Trump’s performance, that’s a very different story.

“We were clearly incredibly unprepared for this crisis,” said Brittany Roethemeier, an attorney and executive director of The Fayette Alliance, a sustainable land-use advocacy group.

During the week the Power Poll survey was being taken, Beshear closed theaters, dine-in restaurants and bars and banned public gatherings, including church services. State and federal health officials have urged people to stay at home, avoid gatherings and practice “social distancing” to slow the spread of the contagious new virus doctors know little about.

What do Power Poll members think about these measures? Sixty-seven respondents said they thought “most of these precautions are smart and necessary.” Another 30 people thought that “we should be taking even more precautions.”

“People are not taking this seriously enough,” said Richard Young, executive director of the non-profit civic engagement organization CivicLex. “It has the potential to displace millions of people in our country as incomes dry up. The state government needs to put a moratorium on evictions now. So many renters are the service workers in small businesses that are going to be most immediately impacted by this.”

Only three poll respondents thought “people are over-reacting to the threat.”

“We should all remove the ‘blinders’ and realize that everyone needs to heed advisories to not just protect yourself but those around us,” said Sharon Reed, a former president of the Lexington Rotary Club. “We should not become overly fearful, but follow the guidelines.”

One group slow to follow the guidelines was Republican leaders of the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives. They continued the General Assembly’s annual session — pushing through partisan and controversial bills that had nothing to do with COVID-19 response or the state budget even though citizens were banned from entering the Capitol to witness or question their actions.

GOP leaders finally reversed course and called off the session Thursday, with the exception of four days over the next month when they will reconvene briefly to pass the budget and COVID-19 measures and take action on any gubernatorial vetoes. The reversal came amid mounting criticism, including from Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington who said they were “putting Kentuckians in danger” by continuing to meet.  

Asked how concerned they were about the coronavirus from a public health standpoint, 57 Power Poll members said they were “worried” and another 25 said they were “very worried”. Seventeen said they were “not too worried” and one was “not worried at all.”

Poll members were even more worried about the economic impacts of the pandemic, with 67 saying they were “very worried”  and another 28 saying they were “worried”. Four were “not too worried” and one was “not worried at all.”

“I have close contact with many small businesses in my profession and I fear that this large-scale virus could quickly demonstrate the small margins that local businesses run on,” said Chad Needham, who has renovated and leases dozens of old Lexington buildings. “Even in the short term, the impact will be significant.”

“I am very concerned for our most vulnerable, including our low-income residents, who rely on hourly jobs for employment,” said Holly Wiedemann, founder and president of AU Associates, which develops low- and mixed-income housing. “With the shutdown of restaurants, conventions and everything else, unemployment will likely increase significantly.”

Poll respondents gave Beshear high marks for his handling of the crisis. The governor has taken decisive actions to limit public contact, conducted daily briefings to discuss the state’s response and tried to reassure the public without downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic.

Asked about Beshear’s leadership so far, 68 poll respondents said he and his administration are doing an “excellent” job, and another 26 rated the response as “good”. Five thought his response had been only “fair”.  None rated it as “poor” or “very poor.” One person had no opinion.

“Very pleased with our governor, showing great leadership,” said Deirdre Lyons, co-founder and director of corporate image and design of the agribusiness giant Alltech.

“Gov. Beshear has shown exemplary leadership at a time when no reliable communications were coming from Washington, D.C.,” said Debra Hensley, an insurance agency owner and former Urban County Council member. “His transparency, openness, communications and understanding of this public crisis has been critical to our well-being.”

Trump got a failing grade from most poll respondents. Only two people thought he was doing an “excellent” job and 12 thought he was doing a “good” job. Sixteen rated his performance “fair,” while 24 said it was “poor” and another 45 called it “very poor.” One person had no opinion.

“Everything he’s described as a hoax has actually been very real and dangerous,” said Graham Pohl, a retired architect and member of Lexington’s Planning Commission.

Some poll members hoped people would learn from this crisis to help mitigate future ones.

“I hope the community members who are in the best position to assist others do so, and that once we can see the way to the other side of this crisis that it clearly serves as a wakeup call to put in place better infrastructure to prevent this lack of immediate response in the future,” Roethemeier said.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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