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Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin issued an executive order to “fix” the state’s rules on vaccine mandates while Gov. Brad Little was away on business.
Political fights over the coronavirus vaccine have become the norm, but in Idaho a fight between the state’s top two politicians escalated this week with a strange twist.
Hours after Idaho’s governor left the state on business, the lieutenant governor signed an executive order that bans the state’s schools and universities from requiring vaccines or Covid-19 testing. Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin claimed that she “fixed” the governor's previous order, which banned government entities from requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination for citizens to receive public services or access to facilities.
Gov. Brad Little said he will revoke the lieutenant governor’s order as soon as he returns to Idaho from a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. But McGeachin’s actions, which also included trying unsuccessfully to deploy the National Guard to the border, have drawn rebuke from fellow Republican lawmakers in the state.
“While the Lt. Governor has an important role to serve as president of the Senate and follow the guidance of the Governor, her actions today are the exact kind of overreach that does not represent Idaho and Idahoans,” said Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, in a statement. “This is a complete grandstand and abuse of her political office in an attempt to influence voters.”
McGeachin has been critical of Little’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and previously announced her intention to run for governor next year. Little has not announced whether he will run for reelection.
This marks the second time she’s taken advantage of Idaho law to undermine the governor’s policies. Under Idaho's Constitution, the lieutenant governor assumes control of "the powers, duties and emoluments" of the governorship when the governor leaves the state.
In May, McGeachin issued an executive order that banned face mask mandates in schools and public buildings when Little left the state to attend a Republican Governors Association conference. Little revoked that order when he returned.
Little left the state Tuesday to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to meet with other Republican governors to discuss border security and immigration-related issues. Governors released a series of policy suggestions Wednesday aimed at addressing the migrant crisis on the border.
“I am in Texas performing my duties as the duly elected Governor of Idaho, and I have not authorized the Lt. Governor to act on my behalf,” Little said in a statement. “I will be rescinding and reversing any actions taken by the Lt. Governor when I return.”
A spokeswoman for Little did not respond to a request for comment regarding any further action the governor might take.
While the Idaho Constitution gives the lieutenant governor authority in the governor’s absence, the legality of McGeachin’s order is in question.
Lawmakers asked the Idaho Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on whether McGeachin’s May order was legal. The order was likely unconstitutional because it essentially tried to create a new law and encroached on the lawmaking power of the legislature, wrote Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane in a legal memo.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.