Idaho’s Bizarre Gubernatorial Power Play

Image Courtesy of CNN

By Jeremy Perillo

Typically when you return from a business trip, you don’t have to spend a few hours undoing what your temporary replacement did. However, this is exactly what Idaho’s Governor Brad Little had to do. After returning from a visit to the U.S.–Mexico border, where regional GOP governors met to discuss the border crisis, Little repealed the Lieutenant Governor’s executive orders which targeted Covid-19 vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations. 

Such a predicament might seem odd, considering lieutenant governors cannot issue executive orders on their own and are usually on the same page with the Governor in terms of the policy. However, in Idaho, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor run separate races and thus are not on the same ticket. Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin is commonly seen to be running for Little’s job when the next gubernatorial race comes around in 2022.

How could something like this happen? Like in most states, when a governor leaves the state (for vacation, conferences, work-related trips, etc.) or is incapacitated in any way that prevents them from executing their duties, the lieutenant governor steps in as acting governor until the duly-elected governor can return to the state (or the role). 

Considering her own political ambitions, and her vastly different political positions from the more moderate Little, McGeachin took the opportunity, as acting governor, to sign sweeping executive orders on a wide range of policies. 

“Today, as Acting Governor, I fixed Gov. Little’s Executive Order on ‘vaccine passports’ to make sure that K-12 schools and universities cannot require vaccinations OR require mandatory testing,” McGeachin tweeted. “I will continue to fight for your individual Liberty!” 

McGeachin also sought to activate the Idaho National Guard to send soldiers to the U.S.–Mexico border. Major General Michael Garshak, the head of the Idaho National Guard, rebuffed her request asking for information on the steps needed to send soldiers to the border.

“I am unaware of any request for Idaho National Guard assistance under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) from Texas or Arizona,” Garshak said.

Following reports about what was transpiring back in Idaho, Little tweeted a statement stating that he would be rescinding and reversing any actions taken by the lieutenant governor when he returned to the state.

“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 stand and the country,” Little said. “The people of Idaho can be assured that as their duly elected Governor, I will continue to fight…” 

This is not the first time McGeachin has used this type of maneuver before. When Little was out of the state attending a Republican conference, McGeachin issued an order banning mask mandates in schools and public buildings. Little never outright prohibited mask mandates, rather leaving it up to individual counties, cities, and schools to issue their own mandates.

Little similarly reversed her order upon his arrival back in the state and called her actions an “abuse of power” and “an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.”

Governor Little’s most recent executive order seems to lay the groundwork for court challenges to determine who is actually in charge when a governor leaves the state. The results of which would be an interesting development for how Idaho’s executive branch operates in the future. 

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