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Idaho Gov. Little repeals mask mandate ban, slams lieutenant governor for 'irresponsible abuse of power'

The governor called Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin's executive order "an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt" that subverted the decisions of local officials.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little repealed an executive order banning mask mandates across the state Friday morning, 24 hours after Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin issued the surprise action while the governor was out of town.

In a statement, Little slammed McGeachin issuing the executive order as "an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt" that subverted the decisions of local officials and the people of Idaho.

McGeachin was serving as acting governor when she issued the order banning mask mandates statewide among state political entities, including schools. The order went into effect at 11 a.m. Thursday, catching districts by surprise in the middle of the school day.

Little, who had left Idaho to travel to the Republican Governors Association conference, said he was not informed about the executive order ahead of time. McGeachin is running against Little in the upcoming governor's race.

In his statement, Little accused McGeachin of making a politically motivated power grab to strip decision-making authority from mayors, school board members, and other local officials. 

"Just like the states begrudge federal government mandates, local governments in Idaho resent the state doing the same thing. The executive order usurps legislative powers. It replicates a bill that was debated considerably in the Legislature but failed to pass a body of individuals representing Idahoans from all corners of the state, and makes it law with the stroke of one person’s pen," the governor wrote. "The action that took place while I was gone this week is not gubernatorial. The action that took place was an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt."

Credit: KTVB
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin

"Taking 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," Little continued.

McGeachin wrote in a statement on her Facebook page that the governor "chose to revoke your personal freedom by rescinding my order.  

"I understand that protecting individual liberty means fighting against tyranny at ALL levels of government — federal, state, and local. 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," she wrote. "As your Lt. Governor, I remain undeterred and unwavering in my commitment to defend your rights and freedoms against all who would violate them. Now, more than ever, we must stand together against those who prioritize their own power above individual liberty."

Little has repeatedly declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, even amid the worst of the COVID-19 death toll in Idaho. However, he has long argued that individual cities, counties, and school districts should make the decisions on face coverings they feel are best for their own communities. 

Law experts warned on Thursday that McGeachin's executive order could face legal challenges. Several school districts, including Boise and  West Ada, said they were consulting their own district lawyers about their school boards' authority to enforce health and safety protocols before making any changes.

Little reiterated that the order to ban mask mandates conflicts with other Idaho laws and presents "some pretty alarming unintended consequences." For example, the governor said, it would no longer be possible to require safety measures for social workers visiting high-risk clients, workers in the state laboratory, or employees at facilities vulnerable to outbreaks of disease.

"This is why you do your homework, Lt. Governor," Little wrote. "Let me offer some advice as Idaho’s duly elected Governor – governing in a silo is NOT governing. I am always reluctant to engage in political ploys, especially when I have been steadfast in meeting the simultaneous goals of protecting both lives and livelihoods. I do not like petty politics. I do not like political stunts over the rule of law. However, the consequences of the Lt. Governor’s flimsy executive order require me to clean up a mess."

The governor's executive order functionally undoes McGeachin's action, returning Idaho law to what it was before.

Gov. Brad Little's full statement is included below:

My fellow Idahoans. 

We could talk ‘til we’re blue in the face about masks and whether they work – whether mask mandates work – but I think the people of Idaho are tired of hearing about it.

With the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine and steady declines in case counts and hospitalizations, masks are, thankfully, becoming a thing of the past. 

For the record, though, I have opposed a statewide mask mandate all along because I don’t think top-down mandates change behavior the way personal choice does.

But, as your Governor, when it came to masks, I also didn’t undermine separately elected officials who, under Idaho law, are given authorities to take measures they believe will protect the health and safety of the people they serve.

An executive order that was issued while I was out of state this week runs contrary to a basic conservative principle – the government closest to the people governs best.

The executive order unilaterally and unlawfully takes away authorities given to the state’s mayors, local school board trustees, and others.

Just like the states begrudge federal government mandates, local governments in Idaho resent the state doing the same thing.

The executive order usurps legislative powers. It replicates a bill that was debated considerably in the Legislature but failed, making law with the stroke of a pen.

The action that took place while I was traveling this week is not gubernatorial.

The action that took place was an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.

Taking 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.

This kind of over-the-top executive action amounts to tyranny – something we all oppose.

How ironic that the action comes from a person who has groused about tyranny, executive overreach, and balance of power for months.

Furthermore, the executive order presents some pretty alarming consequences. For example, we would not be able to require safety measures for social workers visiting homes of at-risk individuals, or workers in our state testing lab, or employees at congregate facilities that are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of infectious disease, threatening loss of life and added strain on the health care system we all depend on. 

The executive order also conflicts with other laws on the books.

This is why you do your homework, Lt. Governor.

Let me offer some advice as Idaho’s duly elected Governor – governing in a silo is NOT governing.

I am always reluctant to engage in political ploys, especially when I have been steadfast in meeting the simultaneous goals of protecting both lives and livelihoods.

I do not like petty politics. I do not like political stunts over the rule of law.

However, the significant consequences of the Lt. Governor’s flimsy executive order require me to clean up a mess. 

With my own executive order today, I will be returning Idaho law to what it was before 11 a.m. on Thursday.

To the people of Idaho, I want to thank you once again, as I have many times throughout the pandemic, for protecting your loved ones and getting us through some of the darkest months of our state’s history.

As your Governor, I have worked hard to protect lives and critical health care capacity for the entire state while keeping families safe and businesses and schools open. 

Every decision has been a balancing act, and I do believe we achieved a balance. We managed to prevent a crisis in our hospitals, and we have kept our state open longer than almost every other state.

Idaho has the strongest economy in the nation and the most financially solvent state budget. With our record budget surplus, we provided Idahoans historic tax relief and made strategic investments in Building Idaho’s Future for our roads, schools, broadband, and other critical areas. 

Few states can claim that kind of success.

It is an honor for me to serve as your Governor, and I remain committed to working responsibly to achieve our shared goal of making Idaho the place where our children and grandchildren choose to stay.

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