Idaho’s Republican Gov. Brad Little reversed an order from his lieutenant governor that outlawed all mask mandates in the state Friday — then ripped her action as an “irresponsible, self-serving political stunt” that “amounts to tyranny.”
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin issued the order Thursday while Little was attending the annual Republican Governors Association conference in Nashville.
Under Idaho’s Constitution, the lieutenant governor is the acting governor and has the power to issue executive orders while the governor is out of state, though it is not clear whether that power had been used before.
McGeachin’s order took effect at 11 a.m. Thursday, hours before Little returned from Nashville to, as he put it, “clean up a mess.”
Little never issued a statewide mask mandate during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving the decision up to local jurisdictions. Two counties and 10 cities still have mandates in place, as do multiple schools.
Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin had banned mask mandates in the state while Little was away this week.
“I have opposed a statewide mask mandate all along because I don’t think top-down mandates change behavior the way personal choice does,” the governor said in a statement, adding that McGeachin’s order was “contrary to a basic conservative principle – the government closest to the people governs best.”
Little also argued that “[t]aking the earliest opportunity to act solitarily on a highly politicized, polarizing issue without conferring with local jurisdictions, legislators, and the sitting Governor is, simply put, an abuse of power.”
The governor went on to claim that McGeachin’s order would have done away with safety requirements for social workers visiting homes of at-risk individuals, at the state testing lab, or at prisons that could have been hit with coronavirus outbreaks. He added that McGeachin’s executive order conflicts with existing laws and told her: “This is why you do your homework, Lt. Governor.”
McGeachin, a former state representative who will challenge Little in next year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, told Idahoans in a statement on Twitter that Little “chose to revoke your personal freedom”.
“I understand that protecting individual liberty means fighting against tyranny at ALL levels of government — federal, state, and local,” she wrote. “It is your God-given right to make your own health decisions, and no state, city, or school district ever has the authority to violate your unalienable rights.”
In a subsequent tweet, McGeachin noted that the Idaho Democratic Party endorsed Little’s move, writing: “When the [D]emocrat party is applauding your actions, especially in a state like Idaho, you pretty much lose the right to call yourself a conservative.”
An Idaho attorney general’s office opinion made public Friday found that while McGeachin had the authority to issue the order, it appeared to run counter to both the Idaho Constitution and statutory executive order authority.
Gov. Brad Little called Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s move “irresponsible.”John Roark /The Idaho Post-Register via AP
“[O]ddly,” the opinion read in part, “it seems to have been issued in an effort to undermine the existing authorities of the state and its political subdivisions to issue mask mandates.”