Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Friday repealed an executive order banning mask mandates by state entities that Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin had issued a day before while he was out of state, marking another scorching volley in the coronavirus response-fueled feud between the two Republicans.
“The action that took place while I was traveling this week is not gubernatorial,” Little said in a statement. “The action that took place was an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt. 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.”
Little continued, “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.”
McGeachin announced her gubernatorial run last week and has repeatedly and publicly clashed with Little over the state’s response to the pandemic. She had signed the order on Thursday barring state officials and entities, including schools, from requiring mask wearing.
McGeachin issued the order while Little was at the Republican Governors Association convention in Nashville this week and “did not make Gov. Little aware of her executive order ahead of time,” Marissa Morrison Hyer, Little’s press secretary, told CNN on Thursday.
McGeachin shot back on Friday in a scathing statement disparaging Little in comparison with other Republican governors and accusing him of being tyrannical and power-hungry.
“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,” she said, adding that “I understand that protecting individual liberty means fighting against tyranny at ALL levels of government — federal, state, and local.”
“As your Lt. Governor, I remain undeterred and unwavering in my commitment to defend your rights and freedoms against all who would violate them,” she continued. “Now, more than ever, we must stand together against those who prioritize their own power above individual liberty.”
Little’s statement defended his stance on Friday, adding that while he was opposed to statewide mask mandates as inappropriate, “I also didn’t undermine separately elected officials who, under Idaho law, are given authorities to take measures they believe will protect the health and safety of the people they serve.”
“The executive order unilaterally and unlawfully takes away authorities given to the state’s mayors, local school board trustees, and others,” he said. “Just like the states begrudge federal government mandates, local governments in Idaho resent the state doing the same thing.”
Even prior to announcing her campaign, McGeachin effectively established herself as the champion of the Trump wing of the party while painting Little as part of the establishment.
Little issued a stay-at-home order for the state on March 25, 2020, and let it lapse on April 30, 2020. On that date, he unveiled a four-stage process to reopen the state, beginning with a first phase that allowed 90% of Idaho’s businesses to reopen.
McGeachin wrote in an op-ed in the Idaho Statesman last May, “I lose sleep at night because the heavy hand of our government is hurting so many Idahoans.”
In October, Little imposed a return to Phase 3 that limited gatherings to 50 people and required people who visit nursing homes to wear masks. In turn, McGeachin and 10 Republican state legislators or legislators-elect appeared in a video in which they seemed to question the existence of the pandemic while declaring they would follow no state or local emergency orders relating to the coronavirus.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.