Idaho’s governor, lieutenant governor have power struggle over COVID policies

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Idaho Gov. Brad Little has said he will rescind an order regarding COVID-19 vaccines issued by his temporary replacement while he was away visiting the southern border.

With Little among a group of Republican governors currently in Texas, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin issued an executive order on Tuesday saying she “fixed” Little’s original policy by banning schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations or mandatory testing. The Idaho Constitution gives gubernatorial powers to the lieutenant governor if the governor leaves the state.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little at a March 2020 news conference. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)Idaho Gov. Brad Little at a March 2020 news conference. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Idaho Gov. Brad Little at a March 2020 news conference. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Little issued a statement minutes after McGeachin’s tweet, saying, “I will be rescinding and reversing any actions taken by the Lt. Governor when I return.”

This is not the first time McGeachin has attempted to alter the state’s pandemic policies in Little’s absence. In May, with Little at the Republican Governors Association conference in Tennessee, McGeachin issued an executive order banning mask mandates, which Little reversed upon his return, calling it an “abuse of power,” an “irresponsible, self-serving political stunt” and the “kind of over-the-top executive action [that] amounts to tyranny — something we all oppose.”

Little never issued a state mask mandate of his own, but some local authorities, county governments and schools did.

In Idaho, the governor and lieutenant governor do not run on the same ticket, so Little did not select McGeachin as his running mate. McGeachin, who is also a Republican, has already announced her intention to run for governor in 2022. Little is eligible for reelection and would face her if he runs again, as expected.

McGeachin launched her campaign earlier this year with the slogan “Make Idaho Free Again” and has called for an audit of the election results in all 50 states. Republican officials loyal to former President Donald Trump have pushed for such partisan reviews of last year’s election results in an attempt to prove that widespread fraud occurred at the polls, although there is no evidence to support such assertions. A widely ridiculed attempt to prove that Trump won Arizona in November split Republicans in the state before ultimately determining that Joe Biden won by an even wider margin there than originally thought.

Per tracking by the New York Times, Idaho has among the worst rates in the country for COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the last week. The state’s vaccination rate remains among the lowest in the nation.

Janice McGeachin Janice McGeachin

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin at a statehouse rally on Wednesday. (Keith Ridler/AP)

“I’ve been listening to people all across the state with the concern about, especially, why are little kids being forced to wear masks in school,” McGeachin said in May. “My oath to the Constitution is to protect those rights and freedoms of the individual, and I’ve never supported any type of a mandate on the individual, especially when it comes to health care choices.”

McGeachin tweeted on Wednesday that “The media continues to mischaracterize my efforts to defend individual Liberty. I’m NOT working against the vaccines. I’m working against the MANDATES.” Her Twitter account, however, contains anti-vaccine and anti-mask posts, including recent instances in which she states that natural immunity is better than the vaccine, although medical experts say vaccines are the best safeguard against the virus.

In addition to trying to alter vaccination rules in the state, McGeachin also attempted to send National Guard troops to the southern border. A number of states have sent troops and law enforcement officials to the border in recent months amid a surge of migration there.

“As of Wednesday, my constitutional authority as Governor affords me the power of activating the Idaho National Guard,” McGeachin wrote in a letter to Maj. Gen. Michael J. Garshak, the guard’s commander, which was acquired by the Associated Press. “As the Adjutant General, I am requesting information from you on the steps needed for the Governor to activate the National Guard.”

Maryland National Guard Sgt. Jason Grant, rightMaryland National Guard Sgt. Jason Grant, right

A man receives a coronavirus vaccine at the Wheaton Welcome Center in Maryland. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“I am unaware of any request for Idaho National Guard assistance under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) from Texas or Arizona,” Garshak replied. “As you are aware, the Idaho National Guard is not a law enforcement agency.”

Little announced in July that he was sending members of the Idaho State Police to Arizona to assist with the border situation. Idaho does not share a border with Mexico, but it does with Canada to the north.

“Attempting to deploy our National Guard for political grandstanding is an affront to the Idaho Constitution and insults the men and women who have dedicated their life to serving our state and the country,” Little said in a statement on Tuesday.

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