BOISE, Idaho — Lame-duck Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin has given a big pay boost to an administrative assistant who is also a top Idaho Republican Party official in a move that could hinder the ability of the next lieutenant governor by significantly depleting the office’s budget before January's power transition.
McGeachin in an email Monday informed the Idaho Division of Financial Management that Machele Hamilton would go from part-time to full-time and jump from $20,000 to $77,000 annually. Her hourly pay is an increase from $20 an hour to about $37 an hour. Her title in the new role is Director of Strategy and Constituent Services. She is also the first vice-chair of the Idaho Republican Party.
Hamilton is making about $30,000 more than McGeachin’s former chief of staff, Jordan Watters, who resigned in March when McGeachin couldn’t stay within last year’s budget. It's not clear why Hamilton is being paid so much more than Watters, whose chief of staff duties would likely have included everything in the title Hamilton was given.
Hamilton answered the phone for McGeachin’s office on Tuesday afternoon but said McGeachin wasn’t available. Hamilton declined to comment about her employment in the office, and McGeachin didn’t respond to a message left with Hamilton by The Associated Press concerning Hamilton’s employment.
It’s not exactly clear when Hamilton started her new position. The Idaho controller’s office lists June 17 as her last day as an administrative assistant in McGeachin’s office.
Lawmakers each year consider raises for state workers, this year approving raises of more than 7%. Raises beyond that for state agency workers must go through an administrative process with the Idaho Division of Human Resources that considers reasons and merits before possible approval. Hamilton's raise from what Watters was making is about a 64% increase.
Lori Wolff, administrator of the Idaho Division of Human Resources, said that increase wouldn't make it through her agency.
“I just can't imagine (Hamilton) would have enough additional duties to warrant (that) increase in pay,” she said.
But McGeachin is a statewide-elected constitutional officer, meaning she can simply approve such raises within her office. She can also hire contract work, as she has done in the past. She could, potentially, use the office’s entire budget of $205,000 while she is in office for the next six months, the first half of the state's fiscal year.
Hamilton’s salary is over $90,000 when adding in benefits, using up nearly a fourth of the office’s budget before a new lieutenant governor takes office in January. McGeachin, who is considered part-time, is making about $53,000 annually.
Hamilton, as first vice-chair of the Idaho Republican Party, is in the second most powerful position of the party behind Chairman Tom Luna. Those posts are up for election when the party meets this weekend in Twin Falls. Hamilton, on Facebook earlier this month, said she was running for a second term “to defend the Republican brand.”
In May, Hamilton ran in the Republican primary in a three-person race for a state representative seat in southwestern Idaho but lost.
McGeachin, who challenged Republican Gov. Brad Little for his job in the May primary but lost by a wide margin, has had budget problems since losing a lawsuit involving a public records request that she fought unsuccessfully in court. She ended up carrying over about $1,700 to this year's fiscal budget, which started July 1. That money also has to come out of this fiscal year's budget.
Midway through the state's fiscal budget year, the state will have a new lieutenant governor in early January. Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke faces Democratic candidate Terri Pickens Manweiler in the November election.
Bedke, the heavy favorite to win the office that hasn't been occupied by a Democrat since the late 1970s, through a spokesman declined to comment.
Notably, McGeachin in September 2020 skipped a meeting of Little’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee and an important vote on restoring $100 million of school funding to attend a campaign fundraiser with Donald Trump Jr. in Stanley in central Idaho. McGeachin on that day tweeted a photo of herself and Hamilton in a convertible driving to Stanley.
Jim Jones, a former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court as well as a former state attorney general, said McGeachin's raise for Hamilton didn't pass the smell test.
“(McGeachin) is obviously aware that she is going to draw down the budget, making it impossible for her replacement to adequately fund staffing,” Jones said. “Government positions are not there to help your friends make a living. They're there to adequately staff a position within the means available.”
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