Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, acting as governor on Thursday in Gov. Brad Little’s absence, issued an executive order banning the mask mandates that remain based on the COVID-19 pandemic.
McGeachin announced the order on social media Thursday morning.
“Today, as acting governor of the state of Idaho, I signed an executive order to protect the rights and liberties of individuals and businesses by prohibiting the state and its political subdivisions — including public schools — from imposing mask mandates in our state,” McGeachin wrote.
Marissa Morrison, a spokesperson for Little, told the Idaho Statesman that the governor “has been out of state this week collaborating with other Republican governors.” The Associated Press reported that Little is in Nashville, Tennessee, at a Republican Governors Association conference.
“The Lt. Gov. did not make Governor Little aware of her executive order ahead of time,” Morrison said in an email.
Little is due back in Idaho on Thursday evening. His office is reviewing the order and an expanded statement will be available upon further review, Morrison said.
The Statesman has reached out to McGeachin’s office for further comment.
Initial reaction to McGeachin’s announcement on social media was mixed. On Facebook, dozens of commenters lauded the decision, calling it an example of leadership. On Twitter, McGeachin was met with harsh criticism. Several users bashed the move and questioned McGeachin’s commitment to allowing local governments and entities to choose their own policies.
Some members of McGeachin’s own party criticized the executive order. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who announced a bid for lieutenant governor on Thursday morning, said he felt it was unwarranted.
“There were no statewide mask mandates,” Bedke said. “So what you have here is a solution in search of a problem, and it’s political theater.”
Many city-, county- or health district-ordered mandates in Idaho have been lifted in the past few weeks, but McGeachin’s order still affects some in the Treasure Valley. The West Ada School District — Idaho’s largest — sent a note out to parents acknowledging that the executive order could affect its mask mandate, which trustees earlier this month voted to keep in place indoors.
“It is not the practice of West Ada School District to change operations in the middle of the school day; therefore, masks will remain in place through today,” the note to parents said. “We are consulting legal counsel regarding the School Boards’ statutory authority under Idaho Code 33-512 to enforce certain health and safety protocols.”
Thursday was the last day of the school year for the Boise School District, which also required masks.
The Meridian Library, which announced Thursday that it would no longer require vaccinated individuals to wear masks inside the library starting June 1, issued another news release clarifying that McGeachin’s executive order “supersedes the Meridian Library mask policies outlined in (the) earlier press release.”
McGeachin last week announced a gubernatorial campaign. Though Little has not yet announced whether he intends to run for reelection, if he does, this will mark just the second time in state history that a sitting lieutenant governor has challenged the incumbent governor of the same party.
Dave Adler, an Idaho Falls-based political analyst, said the executive order was “a shot across the bow” at Little.
“It represents an obvious effort to score points with her constituents at the expense of Brad Little,” Adler said of the order. “It now puts him in the position of having to decide if he’s going to overturn her executive order with his own.”
Adler said he expects to see McGeachin leverage the executive order — and Little’s response — as she campaigns. If Little chooses to leave the order in place, Adler said McGeachin could spin the move as an acknowledgment of her political leadership.
“She could use it in the campaign … and say: ‘I tried to provide liberty and give people a choice. Brad Little didn’t want to give people that choice,’ ” Adler said.
He said it’s not often that lieutenant governors take advantage of their acting governorship to make moves like McGeachin’s. Adler recalled one other instance in recent history: in 1987, when then-Lt. Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a bill to raise Idaho’s legal drinking age to 21 while Gov. Cecil Andrus was away.