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OPINION: This governor is trying to one-up President Trump on masks

Neb. Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at a news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Friday, May 1, 2020. Expanded testing for COVID-19 will start on Monday in Omaha and Grand Island. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Neb. Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at a news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Friday, May 1, 2020. Expanded testing for COVID-19 will start on Monday in Omaha and Grand Island. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

(CNN) – Here are two facts about the coronavirus:

1) 8 states — including large-population states like Texas and Florida — have hit their highest daily number of cases in recent days.

2) Wearing a mask when in public — particularly indoors — is a very effective way of slowing the spread of the virus.

Which is what makes Republican Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts' latest move very, very strange.

Ricketts informed local government officials that they will not qualify for federal coronavirus funds unless they do not mandate the wearing of masks while they're inside government facilities.

Yes, you read that right. Unless local and county offices refuse to mandate masks, no federal dollars. Nebraska has allocated $100 million for reimbursements to local governments for direct expenses incurred in response to the Covid-19 emergency.

"It's really their option, if they don't want to follow the guidelines, they won't be eligible for the CARES Act money but that's certainly their prerogative to do that," said Ricketts earlier this week of the decision.

Oh, how nice! So either these local government offices can get federal dollars by refusing to follow accepted guidelines from public health officials or they can get zero money to help cover funding gaps caused by Covid-19 -- and be forced to find other ways to collect the cash (like raising taxes). Not a great choice, right?

Ricketts' decision was, not surprisingly, met with consternation from local officials. "It sure would have been nice to be able to sit down with our health director and County Board and have a conversation about what to do, without being mandated to do it," Dakota County Assessor Jeff Curry told the Omaha World-Herald.

Dakota County includes a large Tyson meatpacking plant. The meatpacking industry has been heavily hit by the coronavirus.

The move makes no sense from a public health perspective but plenty of sense through a political one.

At least partly due to President Donald Trump, mask-wearing has become decidedly political. Trump has not only refused to wear a mask in sight of cameras -- even when inside -- but used his massive Twitter following to mock former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing one.

Trump has cast the right to refuse to wear a mask as some sort of expression of freedom and liberty -- and many of his most loyal supporters have taken up that cause. The Trump campaign, in fact, is not mandating masks be worn at the President's campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday night -- although masks will be passed out.

"I tell Oklahomans that Covid is in the US, and it's in Oklahoma, we have to learn how to be safe and we have to learn how to move on," said Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday during a visit to the White House. He also told Trump that Oklahomans "can't wait to have you here on Saturday."

For Ricketts then, the mask stance -- while it is dumb -- is a political no-brainer. He governs a strongly conservative state that Trump won by 25 points in 2016. He's term-limited out of office in 2022 and may well be looking for his next step in politics.

"Governor Ricketts has any future he wants," former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told the World-Herald in 2019. "If he wanted to go to Washington — which, I don't know why he would — I'm sure he could do that in either an appointed capacity or some other capacity."

The key keeping that future bright and wide open is making sure to stay in Trump's good graces. And the best way to do that is to be as Trump-y as Trump.

And so, Ricketts not only follows Trump's lead on mask-wearing (or, more accurately, mask not-wearing), but he one-ups the President by tying it to federal dollars that local municipalities badly need.

So, yeah.