Idaho governor forced to repeal ban on mask mandates issued by lieutenant governor

Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) never imposed a statewide mask mandate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, although he did allow local jurisdictions within the state the latitude to impose such measures if it was deemed necessary.

While the governor was out of town Thursday, however, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R), in her role as acting governor, issued an executive order banning all local mask mandates, an order that Little felt compelled to repeal Friday upon his return to the state and resumption of authority, Fox News reported.

McGeachin took advantage of the opportunity to exercise her temporary executive authority while Little was in Nashville, Tennessee to take part in the Republican Governors Association conference. The move came just days after McGeachin had announced her intent to run for the governorship held by Little in 2022.

Ban on mask mandates repealed

In a press release issued Friday, Little explained how, based on the conservative principle that “the government closest to the people governs best,” he had allowed local jurisdictions to impose mask mandates while refraining from imposing or banning such mandates at the state level.

He argued that McGeachin’s order ran contrary to that principle, “unilaterally and unlawfully” stripped power from local authorities, and “usurps legislative powers” by attempting to replicate a defeated bill and make it 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,” Little wrote. “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.”

Taking a shot at his rival, the governor wrote, “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.”

Concurrent with his statement, Little issued an executive order of his own that repealed the prior order from McGeachin and reimposed the status quo that existed prior to his departure for Nashville — no statewide mask mandate, but an allowance for cities, counties, school districts and other entities to impose mandates of their own.

Challenge of authority

The Idaho Statesman reported Thursday that Lt. Gov. McGeachin, who had just a week earlier announced her planned gubernatorial run, issued the order banning mask mandates without consulting anyone, earning sharp rebukes from even some Republican lawmakers in the state.

In an announcement posted to social media, McGeachin wrote, “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.”

One local political analyst told the Statesman that McGeachin’s move was a “shot across the bow” at Little, forcing him to either cede authority to her and let the order stand or revoke the order and seize back authority while appearing to be in favor of mask mandates — either way providing fodder for her campaign.

“Today, Gov. Little chose to revoke your personal freedom by rescinding my order and imposing mask mandates on thousands of Idaho children, rejecting the conservative solutions embraced by leaders like Gov. Abbott in Texas and Gov. DeSantis in Florida,” McGeachin said in a response statement Friday. “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.”

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