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Bill Hagerty and Manny Sethi are seen in this combination photo.

CORRECTION: This editorial has been corrected. The original version incorrectly stated that Republican state Rep. Robin Smith attended the Lincoln Day Dinner and a social media post showed a photo of her wearing no mask. Smith did not attend the dinner. She said the post was from a different political event. Updated at 6:10 p.m. on Friday, August 7, 2020.

Put 500 or so "law and order" Republicans in a Chattanooga Convention Center room in the middle of a pandemic, along with a sheriff who shares the general GOP disdain for anything common sense like the county's currently mandated social distancing and mask mandate, and ask yourselves what could possibly go right.

But first: Get the picture. All of these local Republicans gather once a year for the annual Lincoln Day Dinner event, a Hamilton County GOP fundraiser, complete with speakers and photographers to snap their pictures happily schmoozing. This year, the Friday, July 31, event included Republican U.S. Senate rivals Bill Hagerty and Manny Sethi. It also included a sneaky guest: the COVID-19 virus.

READ MORE: Bill Hagerty, Marquita Bradshaw to compete for Tennessee U.S. Senate seat

Five days later, on Wednesday, the Hamilton County Health Department put out a news statement: "Case investigations revealed that a person attended the event while in their infectious period. It is recommended that anyone who attended this event get tested and monitor their symptoms."

But even before the sad news of positive coronavirus cases, the foolhardy, callous, selfish actions of our GOP had created a social media firestorm when Hagerty, Sethi — a trauma surgeon — and scores of other attendees were shown in social media photos sitting or standing shoulder-to-shoulder without a mask in sight.

In a wide shot showing the room, people were standing, smiling and applauding beside tables where the meal was either long cleared away or not yet served. Among them was retired state Rep. Bobby Wood and his wife. State Rep. Mike Carter was there. No one wore a mask.

When the Facebook and Twitter photos began rolling out, so did the news. When reporters began calling, the photos vanished like smoke. Let's hear it for screen shots.

But back to our initial posit about what could possibly go right:

* If you said these folks followed the guidelines of a county mandate and dutifully put their masks on and social distanced (it was Republican County Mayor Jim Coppinger who, with the county health department, announced the mask mandate effective July 10 to Sept. 8), you'd be wrong.

* If you said the sheriff issued citations (violations "shall be punishable by citation as a Class C misdemeanor," according to the county directive), you'd be wrong.

* If you said they were respectful of the Chattanooga Convention Center's employees (essential workers, right?) and masked up and social distanced, you'd be wrong again.

* If you said Sheriff Jim Hammond, who was at the dinner, cited the Chattanooga Convention Center under the health department's directive provision that says "businesses shall not allow anyone to enter or remain in their establishment unless they are wearing a facial covering and no business shall serve anyone without a facial cover unless seated and eating or drinking consumables served by the establishment," you'd be wrong yet again. (Yes, part of the three-hour Lincoln Day Dinner event was dinner, but just take a gander at the snapshots and judge for yourself if they are eating for the entire three-hour extravaganza.)

* If you said they were leading by example based on Gov. Bill Lee's reluctance to issue a mask mandate and President Trump's disdain for masks, well, you could be right.

But we deserve good leadership examples.

There is a good reason why Hamilton County has a mask mandate and why these non-leaders should be ashamed of themselves for thumbing their noses at it — especially just as school is opening.

Tennessee and the Chattanooga area have made national news already several times in recent weeks as our COVID-19 numbers put us more than once on "hot-spot" maps. With the mandate, this week the county's new cases per day have trended ever so slightly down. We hope it holds, but we're still seeing scores of daily new infections, and our total cases now top 5,800, with more than 1,100 active cases and 49 deaths. Nearly 100 people are hospitalized and about 30 are in intensive care.

If nothing else makes you question this year whether you will vote Republican or Democratic, consider this one glaring example of failed GOP leadership.

The Hamilton County Democratic Party, acknowledging that raising funds is important, reminded us that its annual Kefauver Dinner will be a virtual event, both to set a good example and to help bring about a successful conclusion to this tragic virus.

What's more, Hagerty and Sethi are not your only choices. James Mackler, a Democratic candidate seeking the same U.S. Senate seat, criticized his opponents for not wearing masks at the fundraiser.

"Real leaders don't put their personal political gain ahead of the health and safety of those they seek to serve," said Mackler, a decorated Iraq war veteran. "I'm asking Tennesseans to let me serve again, in a new crisis, because senators have a mission, too — to serve all of America."

 

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