Who’s in charge? In Idaho, it’s sometimes not clear.

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

During a Thursday press conference calling on the Idaho Legislature to reconvene and address employer vaccine policies, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin mentioned, to applause from supporters in the audience, she would be serving as acting governor “at some point today.”

She was quick to add she wasn’t sure how long she would be serving as Idaho’s chief executive.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin holds a press conference on employer vaccine policies on Thursday, July 15, 2021. Ruth Brown/Idaho Reports

The answer? Less than half an hour. “The Governor was out of state for about 15 minutes this morning as we landed in Pullman to head to the fire site in Deary and Capital for a Day in Troy,” Marissa Morrison, press secretary for Gov. Brad Little, wrote in an e-mail to Idaho Reports.

Moscow is served by the Moscow-Pullman Regional Airport, which is in Washington, just over the border between the two towns.

The last time McGeachin served as acting governor, she issued a surprise executive order banning local government entities, including school districts and health districts, from issuing mask mandates. (Upon his return to the state, Gov. Brad Little reversed McGeachin’s order almost immediately.) At the time, McGeachin also pointed out she’d had short notice that she would be in charge.

When I interviewed Little on Idaho Reports in early June, I asked whether there should be more communication between offices so everyone knew who was boss, and for how long. Little defended the current practice.

“That’s the standard protocol. That happened when I was lieutenant governor. Sometimes I’d get a long period of heads up. Sometimes I’d get a phone call in the morning that would say ‘I’m heading to Oregon, you’re in charge,'” Little said.

“I remember a time when everybody was gone so the Secretary of State was (governor) — even though that isn’t necessarily exactly in the Constitution, but it was recognized. So there’s a process there,” Little added.

McGeachin also faced criticism on social media for using the press conference as a campaign event. McGeachin is running for the Republican nomination for governor in the 2022 election. (Little hasn’t yet announced his run for re-election, but has quipped “Don’t be surprised” to members of the media who have asked.)

But the blurring of lines between official duties and campaigns isn’t unique to McGeachin. On Thursday, Little traveled to Troy for a Capital For A Day event, in which executive branch officials travel the state to meet with local officials. While the governor and other agency heads discuss official business during those meetings, the events do, conveniently, get him in front of fellow office-holders and citizens throughout the state in the months before a primary election. When Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter started the Capital For A Day program, he faced criticism for using taxpayer dollars for the meetings.

In June, I asked Little about the practice of campaigning during the day job, a week after his office issued a scathing rebuttal to McGeachin’s executive order.

“That’s just the way elections work. Whether it’s the lieutenant governor versus the governor, whether it’s another member, that happens all the time,” Little said. “People just need to be cognizant that they have their constitutional job to do, and then they have the campaign. It would be nice if they never mix, but they do all the time. That’s just part of the process.”

Idaho Reports producer Ruth Brown will have a full run-down of Thursday’s press conference and subsequent rally later today.

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