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Idaho gov repeals lieutenant gov's executive order banning mask mandates, unloads on her 'irresponsible abuse of power'

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Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) on Friday repealed an executive order overriding local mask mandates, blasting his Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R) for issuing the order in his absence.

"The action that took place was an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt," Little said in a statement.

The governor accused McGeachin's order of usurping legislative powers with an "over-the-top executive action" that "amounts to tyranny." His repeal order aims to "restore local control" over public health ordinances, permitting Idaho localities to impose mask mandates, including for children, if they deem it necessary to protect public health.

Idaho never adopted a statewide mask mandate because Little believed a top-down order from the state government would violate conservative principles respecting local government.

Earlier this week, Little was out of state to attend a meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Nashville, Tennessee. Idaho law elevates the lieutenant governor to serve as acting governor with all the governor's powers "in case of temporary inability to perform his duties or in the case of his temporary absence from the state."

While he was away, McGeachin used her temporary authority to issue the executive order banning local governments from implementing mask mandates.

McGeachin announced last week that she will run in the Republican primary for governor. She did not notify Little, her primary opponent, of her intention to issue the order.

"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 said, blasting McGeachin. "This kind of over-the-top executive action amounts to tyranny — something we all oppose."

Little accused McGeachin's order of violating Idaho state law, which provides that school district trustees, cities, counties, and public health districts have the power to enact policies to protect pubic health. The law also prohibits executive orders from changing state law.

"How ironic that the action comes from a person who has groused about tyranny, executive overreach, and balance of power for months," Little said.

"Furthermore, the executive order presents some pretty alarming consequences," he continued. "For example, we would not be able to require safety measures for social workers visiting homes of at-risk individuals, or workers in our state testing lab, or employees at congregate facilities that are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of infectious disease, threatening loss of life and added strain on the health care system we all depend on."

Then his statement got personal:

The executive order also conflicts with other laws on the books.

This is why you do your homework, Lt. Governor.

Let me offer some advice as Idaho's duly elected Governor – governing in a silo is NOT governing.

I am always reluctant to engage in political ploys, especially when I have been steadfast in meeting the simultaneous goals of protecting both lives and livelihoods.

I do not like petty politics. I do not like political stunts over the rule of law.

However, the significant consequences of the Lt. Governor's flimsy executive order require me to clean up a mess.

Responding, McGeachin told supporters in a statement that Gov. Little "chose to revoke your personal freedom by rescinding my order and imposing mask mandates on thousands of Idaho children."

"I understand that protecting individual liberty means fighting against tyranny at ALL levels of government — federal, state, and local. It is your God-given right to make your own health decisions, and no state, city, or school district ever has the authority to violate your unalienable rights," McGeachin said.

"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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