A Texas hair salon owner spent some time in jail this past week for defying the governor’s order to close businesses like hers during the coronavirus shutdown. Though she told a judge she was standing up for herself because she was unable to feed her family, the publicity her stunt received took care of that problem.
The salon owner, Shelley Luther, repeatedly ignored Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide order. She tore up a cease-and-desist order in front of TV cameras and accepted jail time instead of agreeing to close her business until salons got the green light from the state to reopen, which happened on Friday.
Republican lawmakers in Texas and other conservatives rallied behind her, and The Associated Press reported that an online fundraising campaign for her raised more than $500,000. So now, unlike many other small-business owners, Luther doesn’t have to worry about how to feed her kids — or pay any legal fees.
Frankly, the “feed the kids” line sounds questionable. Any reputable small-business owner is certain to have some savings or a line of credit with a bank. This money is available for an emergency, which pretty much defines the last two months. Luther had also applied for government business assistance, but those funds did not arrive until last weekend.
She actually won the argument. The governor, whose order allowed violators to be put in jail, removed that punishment for anyone who is supposed to keep their business closed.
Jail does seem extreme. Any governor could discourage business operators who violate a closure order by assessing fines larger than the amount of money they take in on a normal day, thus removing any financial incentive to open.
Without saying so directly, Luther did make one good point about the seeming arbitrariness in her state and others about which nonessential businesses should be allowed to open and which ones shouldn’t.
All that said, what’s bothersome about Luther’s actions is the “hell, no” mentality. When a Dallas judge offered to reduce her penalty to a fine if she would apologize and keep the business closed until allowed to reopen, she refused.
The judge, finding her in contempt of court, wrote, “The defiance of the court’s order was open, flagrant and intentional.” It’s impossible to argue with him.
Abbott, a Republican, is about as far from a state-control type as a governor can get. He and other governors, facing a once-in-a-century crisis, had to weigh public health, the economy and individual liberty. They should not be faulted for choosing caution when confronted by the coronavirus.