McGeachin stays loyal to base while Little fumes

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Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is a proverbial heartbeat away from being Idaho’s next governor, might be making Gov. Brad Little’s heart flutter a bit.

“Did you see what she did? I was away for a couple of hours in Spokane,” he told me while walking inside Emmett City Hall for his first “Capital for a Day” event as governor.

What McGeachin did during her brief time as acting governor was join a Patriots Day celebration on the Capitol steps, hosted by the “Real III Percent in Idaho,” a group that supports causes such as gun rights and perceived threats to the Constitution. In February, McGeachin caused a political stir when she posed for photos with a couple of Three Percenters outside her Statehouse office.

During the Patriots Day event, she administered a military-style oath to the group who pledged “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

She made a point of telling the cheering crowd that she was not just the lieutenant governor. “Today is really special because I’m actually your acting governor.”

Little was not impressed or amused.

In my almost 35 years covering or following Idaho politics, I’ve never heard a governor utter, “Did you see what she (or he) did?” in relation to actions by a lieutenant governor. And there have been times when the governor and lieutenant governor were not from the same party.

McGeachin is not your usual lieutenant governor, which carries all the excitement of watching grass grow. She can be a team player when she’s with the governor at public functions, or speaking to most crowds. Recently, she was appointed by the governor to lead a new commission aimed at promoting government efficiency – so there is a working relationship. But McGeachin is not a slave to the administration or the old ways of doing business, which is what at least some of her conservative friends like about her.

Talking with some of McGeachin’s defenders, they have no problem with her participation in the recent gathering. As one told me, “It was a Patriots Day celebration and she was invited to speak. Get over it.”

McGeachin ran in last year’s primary election, and won, based on the premise that she was “the conservative” in that crowded primary race. She won in November, based primarily on the fact that she had an “R” beside her name, but there’s no mystery of where her support lies.

Little’s base is much different from McGeachin’s. He was the first choice for voters in the GOP primary, and probably a strong second choice in the two opposing camps. I suspect he had a fair share of backing from Democrats who thought he would do a better job running the state than Paulette Jordan.

Philosophically, McGeachin would have been a better fit for former Congressman Raul Labrador as governor since both were campaigning on the idea of moving state government to the right. Little probably would have been better off with anyone else on the Republican ticket other than McGeachin. Either credit, or blame, the voters for putting this political odd couple in charge.

The celebration wasn’t the only time McGeachin has gone crossways with the governor in recent weeks. Soon after the session ended, she took aim at Little’s veto of the controversial initiative-reform bill that the Legislature approved. Little vetoed the bill because of concerns about potential litigation, saying his signature could “give a lone federal judge the only voice in defining our initiative process.”

Conservatives, such as McGeachin, do not typically allow themselves to be deterred by the prospect of lawsuits.

“Prudence is always welcome, but we also must be careful not to give in to fear,” she wrote. “When it is necessary to defend life, defend our Second Amendment rights, or protect our republican form of government, fear of lawsuits must not dissuade us from doing what is right. There will always be those who will try to use the courts to get their way, but that threat alone must not be allowed to control the legislative process in Idaho.”

I asked Little about those pointed remarks from the lieutenant governor and he said he didn’t see McGeachin’s newsletter.

It’s probably a good thing that he didn’t see her comments, because there’s no need to encourage irregular heartbeats in the governor’s office.

Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com

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