Idaho’s No. 2 Attempts Power Grab in Governor’s Absence

Idaho lieutenant governor Janice McGeachin in action. Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Idaho governor Brad Little really needs to stay at home. For the second time this year, Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin took advantage of a constitutional provision making her “acting governor” when the chief executive is out of state to engage in some performative MAGA nonsense. On the latest occasion, she “fixed” a Little executive order dealing with COVID-19 mandates, as the Idaho Statesman reported:

McGeachin announced the order on social media, declaring that all state agencies, including public K-12 schools and universities, would be prohibited from requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccine or requiring mandatory testing for people to access services.

The order is an extension of a similar order Little issued in April. Little’s original order had encompassed all state facilities, but not K-12 public schools, and did not mention testing.

The duly elected governor, who was in Texas with a passel of Republican counterparts conducting their own political exhibition (discussing “concerns about how the Biden administration is handling border issues,” as the Washington Post put it), let it be known via that solemn official medium, Twitter, that he would be “reversing and rescinding” anything McGeachin did in his absence. That is what he did in May, when the lieutenant governor issued an order banning mask mandates while Little was in Nashville at another Republican gubernatorial gathering.

It could have been worse this time around: On Tuesday, McGeachin also tried to dispatch the Idaho National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border to help deal with the same Trumped-up emergency that Little was in Texas to address, but she was rebuffed by the commanding general of the Guard, who noted there had been no formal request for help.

To be clear, Little and McGeachin are both members of Idaho’s dominant Republican Party, but they were not elected as a ticket (Idaho is one of 17 states where the top-two officeholders run independently). The lieutenant governor is an announced gubernatorial candidate in 2022; Little is eligible to run for another term, but has not yet made his intentions known. The incumbent is regarded as a bit of a RINO squish in hard-core right-wing circles. McGeachin has a different problem: the possibility that some right-wing voters will spurn her for anti-government militia celebrity Ammon Bundy, who is also in the race.

Idaho offers a good example of how pandemic politics aren’t always just a matter of Democrats versus Republicans. As the Post notes, Little and McGeachin have been battling over the state’s handling of COVID-19 for a long time:

After Little ordered bars to shut down until mid-June 2020, McGeachin defied him by opening her family’s tavern in Idaho Falls weeks before she was supposed to. In October 2020, McGeachin was in a conservative think tank’s video — a gun in one hand, a Bible in the other — and seemed to question the existence of the pandemic. In March, she went to a protest at the state Capitol in Boise where people burned masks.

Little and McGeachin will presumably be holding their current offices for another 15 months or so, which means future incidents of acting governor hijinks are entirely possible. It’s unclear how well McGeachin’s act is being received by the voters who will determine her fate; you have to figure a lot of Republicans in a place like Idaho have no inherent objections to a coup now and then. At least they are getting a strong taste of what life will be like if McGeachin gets the big job for real.

Idaho’s No. 2 Attempts Power Grab in Governor’s Absence