It’s been a strange week in the state of Idaho, largely because of the rather “unique” way their laws handle the dealings of the state executive branch. Earlier this week, as Karen already covered, Governor Brad Little departed for Texas where he joined nine other governors investigating the Biden border crisis. There’s nothing unusual about that since it was official state business. Under Idaho’s rules, any time the Governor leaves the state, the Lieutenant Governor (currently Janice McGeachin) immediately assumes the powers of acting governor. But the two executives don’t run for office on the same ticket in Idaho, so they sometimes turn out to be political rivals, which is currently the case in the Gem State.
As soon as Little’s plane crossed over the state border, McGeachin began issuing executive orders. She banned vaccine mandates and immunity passports in the state, along with mandatory COVID testing. She also attempted to call up the Idaho National Guard and dispatch them to the southern border. (The Major General in charge of the Guard declined, citing a lack of a request for Idaho National Guard assistance under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact from Texas or Arizona.) Little initially said he would be reversing the orders as soon as he returned to Idaho, but yesterday he changed course and issued those directives while still in Texas. (Politico)
The Idaho governor on Wednesday issued an executive order repealing his political rival’s executive order from the previous day involving Covid-19 vaccine passports and mandatory testing.
Republican Gov. Brad Little issued the order while still in Texas, a move that challenges the state’s longstanding practice of making the lieutenant governor acting governor when the governor is out of state.
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, a far-right Republican who is running to take Little’s job, issued her order Tuesday and also sought to activate the Idaho National Guard and send soldiers to the U.S.-Mexico border.
It turns out that this wasn’t the first time that McGeachin asserted her powers as acting governor. In May, when Little was briefly out of the state on business, she issued a ban on face mask mandates across Idaho. Little rescinded that one as soon as he returned also.
There may be a court challenge coming out of this. The Governor is referencing state law and emergency powers in claiming that he can roll back McGeachin’s orders while he’s still in Texas. But she points out that the state constitution says that the Lieutenant Governor “shall assume power” whenever the Governor leaves the state. But this seems like a distinction without a difference, doesn’t it? The moment Little lands back in Idaho, he would once again have the power to reset the rules as he sees fit. Even if you agree that McGeachin was within her rights to issue the orders (as she seems to have been), they would only last for a few days.
In addition to wanting to reinstate the vaccination mandate and other measures, Little was critical of the Lieutenant Governor’s attempt to mobilize the Guard. He referred to it as “political grandstanding” and “an affront to the Idaho constitution.” If all of this sounds like two politicians attacking each other in campaign advertisements, there’s a reason for that.
The underlying reality seems clear. McGeachin ran for Governor previously and came up short but she’s still hoping to take the job away from Little next year. She runs from a playbook far to the right of Little, opposing federal and state mandates in pandemic-related matters, while Little has been far more willing to exert some authoritarian control and impose restrictions on Idaho’s residents. By generating these sorts of headlines, she’s drawing a clear distinction between herself and Little in terms of how they would each handle the pandemic response. Assuming that Idaho is still as far to the right as it’s traditionally been, that might not turn out to be a bad strategy. We’ll find out after the state’s gubernatorial primary next year.