BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican Gov. Brad Little is fighting back a primary challenge on Tuesday from his lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin, a Donald Trump-backed candidate who twice attempted a power grab last year when Little was out of state on business.
The intraparty contest between Little and McGeachin is an extreme example of the choice GOP voters face nationwide as Idaho’s ascendant far-right tries to take the state’s highest post and expand legislative gains.
Little was attending a Republican Governors Association meeting in Tennessee last May when McGeachin issued an executive order banning mask mandates. Little quickly rescinded the order and decried her actions as an “irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.” He had never issued statewide COVID-19 mask mandates, instead saying that local officials should be able to do what they see fit.
She tried it again a few months later when Little was away, issuing an executive order that expanded on a directive that no Idaho government could require vaccine passports. She sought to add K-12 schools and universities to the ban.
McGeachin accused Little, the first-term governor, of rejecting conservative principles, writing on Twitter that “protecting individual liberty means fighting against tyranny at ALL levels of government.”
Republicans are almost guaranteed of winning in the general election as Democrats haven’t held the governor’s office since 1995 or statewide office since 2007. Republicans hold supermajorities in the House and Senate, and Democrats aren’t even contesting more than half of the Legislature’s 105 seats.
Little, a rancher from southwest Idaho, served as lieutenant governor from 2009 to 2019 before becoming governor. He touts the record $600 million income tax cut he signed earlier this year that includes a one-time $350 million in rebates and $250 million in permanent income tax reductions going forward for people and businesses.
The 68-year-old Little also highlights his “Leading Idaho” plan that includes a record $300 million education spending increase, plus spending $200 million ongoing for roads and bridges, the largest ever increase for transportation.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, he issued a temporary stay-at-home order as patients overwhelmed some hospitals and health care workers became ill. It worked, slowing the spread of the disease and reducing deaths while the state ramped up defenses. But unemployment spiked, and some of Little's fellow Republicans chafed at the restrictions.
One of them is the 59-year-old McGeachin, who has leveraged Little's pandemic response into a campaign issue. In Idaho, the governor and lieutenant governor in Idaho run on separate tickets, so the two were not aligned when they won their races in 2018.
Little has since taken the position that McGeachin is not acting governor when he's out of state. McGeachin has complained Little is incorrectly interpreting the Idaho Constitution, but she hasn't made a court challenge.
Little has a long string of endorsements, including from the Idaho Fraternal Order of Police. Meanwhile, a group of retired Idaho county sheriffs and police recently formed a political action committee to oppose McGeachin because of her courting of antigovernment and anti-law enforcement groups such as the Three Percenters militia group. Earlier this year, she delivered a taped speech to the America First Political Action Conference, a white nationalist gathering.
But McGeachin has, and frequently touts, an endorsement by Trump, who won Idaho with 64% of the vote in the last general election. McGeachin has also promoted Trump's lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him through mass voter fraud.