Lt. Gov. McGeachin issues executive order while Little leaves Idaho

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin photographed at the State Capitol on February 6, 2019. (Photo by Otto Kitsinger)

By Ruth Brown, Logan Finney, and Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

When Idaho Gov. Brad Little left the state, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin wasted no time using her authority as acting executive — though Little made it clear whatever actions she takes will be short lived.

On Tuesday, as Little traveled to Texas to visit the U.S.-Mexico border with nine other Republican governors, McGeachin issued an executive order titled “Banning Vaccine Passports and Mandatory Testing,” images of which were posted to her social media.

In the order, McGeachin prohibits state agencies from requiring COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test as a condition of employment or to access state services or facilities.

“Today, as Acting Governor, I fixed Gov. Little’s Executive Order on ‘vaccine passports’ to make sure that K-12 schools and universities cannot require vaccinations OR require mandatory testing,” McGeachin posted.

Soon after, Little posted on his Twitter that he will rescind and reverse any action taken by McGeachin when he returns to Idaho.

The Associated Press first reported that McGeachin also reached out to the Idaho National Guard, asking if she could deploy troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. 

In her letter to Major General Michael J. Garshak, provided to Idaho Reports on Tuesday afternoon, McGeachin said she spoke to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s office in September, and said the office “affirmed the need for additional resources” at the border.

“To protect our state from drugs and human trafficking, as Acting Governor, I am prepared to answer their call. As of Wednesday, my constitutional authority as Governor affords me the power of activating the Idaho National Guard,” McGeachin wrote. “I’m also requesting a phone call from you personally early Wednesday morning.”

In response, Garshak said he was “unaware of any request for Idaho National Guard assistance,” pointing to a letter from the governors of Texas and Arizona that requested help specifically from law enforcement agencies.

“As you are aware, the Idaho National Guard is not a law enforcement agency,” Garshak wrote. “Under Idaho law, law enforcement is provided by the Idaho State Police.”

The National Guard can be deployed under an Emergency Management Assistance Compact, but was not included in the agreements cited by McGeachin and Garshak.

Idaho Reports reached out to McGeachin’s office on Tuesday afternoon, but did not receive an immediate response. 

In his response posted to Twitter, Little called McGeachin’s actions “an affront to the Idaho constitution” that “insults the men and women who have dedicated their life to serving our state and the country.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke issued a statement Tuesday afternoon on the process, condemning her actions — and hinting that he would soon call the Idaho Legislature back into session to address the vaccine mandate issue themselves.

“While the Lt. Governor has an important role to serve as president of the Senate and follow the guidance of the Governor, her actions today are the exact kind of overreach that does not represent Idaho and Idahoans,” said Bedke in a written statement. “This is a complete grandstand and abuse of her political office in an attempt to influence voters.

“Currently, the Senate Pro Tempore and I are working through the proper avenues to return to session with a clear path forward to deny the recent Biden mandates. The draft legislation moved forward by the Joint Federalism Committee with unanimous support of its Republican members appears to have found that path,” said Bedke. “I stand firm against the current Biden Administration’s attack on personal rights and freedoms, and I do not support this federal violation. What comes next will be determined soon by the Legislative Branch and not be left to the Lt. Governor to dictate.”

This isn’t the first time McGeachin has taken advantage of her temporary powers. In May, while Little was at a conference, she issued an executive order banning Idaho government entities from issuing mask mandates, causing confusion among school districts and other agencies that hadn’t been given a heads-up that the action was coming. Little reversed the order the next day when he got back to Idaho, with a scathing statement that laid bare long-simmering tensions between the two officials over Little’s response to the pandemic. 

The executive order was posted an hour after the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare confirmed that crisis care standards at Idaho hospitals are still ongoing. Director Dave Jeppesen said as of Tuesday, Idaho was reporting the highest number of kids with COVID-19 in hospitals than they’ve seen throughout the entire pandemic. The state also saw a record number of COVID-19 deaths last month. 

This document was obtained through a record request by Idaho Reports.

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