One day after it was signed, Little repeals McGeachin’s order banning mask mandates

Idaho governor says lieutenant governor’s actions disrespected the rule of law

Idaho Gov. Brad Little
Brad Little has served as Idaho's governor since 2019.

Saying she disrespected the rule of law and threatened the state’s ability to protect children, first responders and seniors, Gov. Brad Little repealed the executive order Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin issued Thursday banning mask mandates 

McGeachin issued the original order Thursday while Little was out of state and McGeachin was acting governor. 

“The action that took place was an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt,” Little said in a statement announcing his repeal.

Little, who returned to Idaho late Thursday night, issued his own executive order Friday morning, repealing McGeachin’s order. 

The Idaho Capital Sun obtained Little’s executive order Friday morning. It is effective as of 11 a.m. Friday and is retroactive to 11 a.m. Thursday. Little took that step in an attempt to restore the status quo as it was Thursday morning before McGeachin’s executive order took place. The idea is to make it as if McGeachin’s executive order never took place.

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McGeachin’s executive order had banned the state and local units of government, including public schools, from issuing mask mandates. While she said her order exempted hospitals and long-term care facilities, it did not create an exemption for prisons, congregate living arrangements or lab technicians handling infectious, deadly diseases.

Little strongly criticized McGeachin when he issued the new executive order.

McGeachin’s executive order “violates fundamental principles of conservatism by forcing the heavy hand of government on local jurisdictions that are better suited to make unique decisions directly affecting the health and safety of their populations,” Little wrote. 

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Her executive order also “disrespects the rule of law by arbitrarily exercising executive power in a manner contrary to our laws and without consulting stakeholders and our local government counterparts,” Little added. “(It) violates the separation of powers doctrine by encroaching on the Legislature’s prerogative to make statewide policy and legislatively refine the powers of cities, counties, schools and public health districts.”

Little criticized McGeachin for using her executive order to go around the legislative process and implement House Bill 339, a failed bill with nearly identical language that the House passed but that failed to advance in the Senate.

Little said McGeachin’s executive order “was a near verbatim resurrection” of a bill that never advanced in the Senate “due to insufficient support from Idaho’s elected policy makers.”

In his statement issued Friday, Little called McGeachin’s action “an abuse of power” that “conflicts with other laws on the books” and would have dangerous consequences. The potential fallout of the “flimsy executive order require me to clean up a mess,” he said.

“This kind of over-the-top executive action amounts to tyranny – something we all oppose,” he said. “How ironic that the action comes from a person who has groused about tyranny, executive overreach, and balance of power for months.”

McGeachin responded to Little repealing her executive order with a statement posted to social media. 

“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 wrote.

Little’s executive order did not impose a mask mandate. It simply repealed McGeachin’s executive order, allowing local units of government such as schools, cities and health districts to implement their own mask mandates. Little has never implemented a statewide mask mandate. 

McGeachin said that is people’s “God-given right” to make their own health decisions, adding she was undeterred in her commitment to defend freedom.

“Now, more than ever, we must stand together against those who prioritize their own powers above individual liberty,” she wrote.

Late Thursday afternoon, McGeachin told the Idaho Capital Sun that school mask mandates from the past year were a big factor in her decision to issue the executive order. She said she did not check with schools in advance or let them know the executive order was coming. 

McGeachin’s order created confusion in the West Ada School District, the state’s largest district, where education leaders scrambled to send an email to parents saying they would not change policy during the middle of the school day. 

Little criticized McGeachin for failing to consult with schools and local governments before issuing her executive order. 

Little’s staff has also said McGeachin did not notify him that she planned to issue her executive order. Little called McGeachin shortly before 11 a.m. Friday to give her advance notice that he was repealing her executive order, according to Little’s office.  

Little left Idaho on Tuesday morning and was in Nashville with the Republican Governors Association, his staff said. He returned to Idaho on Thursday night.  

During the first part of Little’s trip, Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, served as acting governor Tuesday and Wednesday. McGeachin was acting governor for about 24 hours from late Wednesday through Thursday night. 

The Idaho Constitution and state law provide for an acting governor while the governor is out of state or unable to perform the duties of the office. 

The situation represents the latest salvo in a growing rift between McGeachin and Little. 

McGeachin is running for governor in 2022. Although Little has yet to formally announce his campaign, he is widely expected to seek a second term.

McGeachin cited her executive order in a pitch to solicit campaign donations on her website Thursday, writing “One of the hardest things for a candidate to do is ask for money, but our campaign needs your support if we are going to keep challenging the status quo.”

In 2019, during a previous instance where Little was out of state, McGeachin attended a Real Three %ers militia rally and administered an oath to attendees while she was acting governor.