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Idaho’s Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin Has Gone Rogue Over Coronavirus

Idaho’s Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin Has Gone Rogue Over Coronavirus

When the Republican governor of Idaho issued a plan to safely reopen businesses in the state, he ordered bars to stay closed until at least June 13. Last weekend, in defiance of those guidelines, Idaho’s lieutenant governor—also a Republican—reopened the tavern she owns with her family in Idaho Falls.

A few days before reopening The Celt Pub and Grill, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin penned a scathing op-ed in which she slammed Gov. Brad Little’s oversight of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“As Lieutenant Governor, I am one heartbeat away from the governor’s chair,” McGeachin wrote. State residents, she added, were “sidelined and left to watch silently as the government closed Main Street by unilaterally deciding which businesses were ‘essential’ and which ones were not.” 

The definition of “essential” workers came from the White House, not the statehouse, but that was lost in the remarkable animosity between Idaho’s top leaders. According to the Idaho Statesman, McGeachin and Little have not spoken in weeks. 

As the country enters its third month of lockdown amid a slumping economy, right-wing protesters often funded by a network of deep-pocketed conservative groups, have called for states to be “liberated” from a patchwork of measures meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. But public health experts warn that reopening prematurely will only make things worse. Weeks after it reopened, Texas has experienced a surge in COVID-19 deaths.

A majority of Americans, on both sides of the aisle, say the nation is reopening too quickly, but among politicians the dispute is largely split down party lines. In Georgia, the Democratic mayors of Atlanta, Savannah, and Albany are opposed to Republican governor Brian Kemp’s reopening plan, saying it is too early. The Democratic mayor of Des Moines, Frank Cownie, has criticized Iowa governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, for the same reason. 

However, the feud between McGeachin and Little is playing out among two conservatives in a deep red state. Idaho state representative Greg Chaney, a Republican who has been openly critical of McGeachin’s position on reopening, told The Daily Beast he hasn’t seen anything like it in his lifetime. 

“This particular administration has been in office not quite two years, and so their working relationship is relatively new,” said Chaney, “but historically I can’t recall a similar example, even [back in the 1980s] when we had a Repubiclan lieutenant governor and a Democratic governor.”

In Idaho, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected individually. Little clinched Idaho’s 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary with 37 percent of the vote; McGeachin won with 29 percent. They both were voted into office with 60 percent of the vote in the general election.

Neither responded to requests for comment for this story.

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