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Is Idaho all right? Gem State political standoff gets attention of World Wide Web, national media

On Thursday, Stephen Colbert weighed in to help explain the situation. “And if both of them are out of state, power passes to a potato with googly eyes,” he joked.

BOISE, Idaho — Editor's Note: This article was originally published by the Idaho Press.

Eyes wide, the person in the TikTok video tells their followers “Have y’all seen what’s going on in Idaho?”

Now, many have. The TikTok, from user underthedesknews, had 4.3 million views as of Friday morning and more than 710,000 likes. On their page, “IDAHO LT GOV GOES ROGUE” is plastered in yellow text for the preview. The caption: Idaho.. Are you alright?

TikTok is a social media platform used for sharing videos, from just a few seconds up to 3 minutes long.

“So yesterday, the Lt. Governor, Janice McGeachin, who is also a Republican, issued an executive order banning vaccine mandates and mandatory testing,” the user said. “You can follow the drama on twitter at #idpol.”

Not everything in the TikTok is accurate, but people worldwide did tune into #idpol to follow the situation, from McGeachin’s original Tweet showing the executive order, to Gov. Brad Little’s Tweet less than 10 minutes later saying he would rescind her order, to all the reactions that followed. 

McGeachin’s executive order banned vaccine passports or mandatory COVID-19 testing at K-12 schools and universities in the state. The same day, Maj. Gen. Michael J. Garshak rebuffed her query about activating the Idaho National Guard and sending troops to the Mexico border where Little was touring with a number of other Republican governors regarding national security.

“There didn’t need to be a back and forth with the Governor,” McGeachin said in an emailed statement to the Idaho Press, where she added she had constitutional authority. “I believe in giving the power back to the people to choose what is best for their own health.”

An email sent to to Little’s office on Friday morning requesting comment were not immediately returned.

The exchange between Little and McGeachin caught the attention of multiple national news outlets, including the New York Times.

The incident also became fodder for pundits like Joy Reid, who discussed the drama on her MSNBC show “The ReidOut.”

“The ruby-red state of Idaho is proving just how bananas the right-wing takeover of the Republican party is,” Reid said, before launching into an explanation of various current events in the Gem State, beyond just what happened Tuesday. “It’s not the first time that (McGeachin’s) gone rogue with performative nonsense.”

Reid said both politicians are wasting Idahoan’s time with theatrics, but anointed McGeachin “tonight’s absolute worst.”

Vice News called what happened a “minor coup attempt."

On Thursday, Stephen Colbert weighed in to help explain the situation. Idaho’s constitution requires the lieutenant governor to take over when the governor leaves the state, Colbert read from a Washington Post article.

“And if both of them are out of state, power passes to a potato with googly eyes,” Colbert said, to applause. “Frontrunner, 2024. Potato.”

Over the past month, related Google searches to “Idaho” have included queries about rationing health care. But over the past week, related Google searches are about McGeachin and her executive order, according to Google Trends.

Google Trends also showed that searches for Janice McGeachin are up around 4,000% as of Thursday.

Many people only know Idaho is famous for its potatoes, the state’s own tourism website admits. But Idaho has also attracted attention over the years for extremists, including the 1992 Ruby Ridge siege and the Aryan Nations compound near Coeur d’Alene.

Idaho tourism has been growing the past few years, the Idaho Press previously reported, and tourism in the Gem state is a multi-billion dollar industry, according to the Idaho Department of Commerce. It’s the third-largest industry in the state, behind agriculture and technology. 

So what happens when people start making memes about the state of Idaho politics?

A news cycle like this affects people differently depending on their perspective, said Seth Ashley, a professor in the department of communications at Boise State University.

For someone who is closer to McGeachin’s base or dislikes vaccine mandates, the attention could make Idaho seem great, Ashley said.

“This does look like a fringe act to (the mainstream media),” Ashley said. “I think it kind of effects public perception of the state and probably just confirms what a lot of people already think, regardless of which side of the aisle they’re on.”

Ashley said McGeachin’s actions were a “political stunt designed to get media attention,” but it’s also a stunt built for social media. The algorithms are wired for engagement, he said, and reward more extreme views and behavior.

“Yes, it got mainstream coverage in national outlets,” Ashley said. “But would it have taken on this kind of life without social media?”

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