Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is a heartbeat from being governor, and doesn’t mind mentioning that fact to anyone who will listen.
If some folks had their way – specifically the 15 legislators who gathered on the House floor last week (June 23) and the throng of supporters in the House gallery – McGeachin would be the governor today. What this means is that the effort to recall the governor has traction.
Last week’s meeting on the House floor, amounted to little more than a gripe session, but with plenty of fanfare. Rep. Judy Boyle of Midvale wheeled out a lengthy proclamation, calling for a special session of the entire Legislature and accusing the governor of violating the Constitution. She says the Legislature, as a separate but equal branch of government, should have been a working partner in the handling of the COVID-19 health crisis, the changing of election laws and the appropriation of a $1.25 billion grant from the federal government for the purpose of giving people a bonus for returning to work. For sure, dissatisfaction among legislators goes well beyond the 15 Republicans who showed up last week.
As Little has pointed out, the governor can call a special session for a single purpose. Given the Legislature’s typically snail’s pace, it could take months to resolve the issues identified in Boyle’s proclamation – with no guarantee of timely action.
Nevertheless, Boyle says, the governor shouldn’t be the only one making decisions. “He’s usurped our power as an equal branch of this government.”
Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard, in her usual form of diplomacy, referred to Little as a “self-appointed tyrant.”
Which leads us back to McGeachin, who has hammered Little about his handling of the coronavirus crisis – and especially his identifying of businesses that are “essential.”
There’s wide speculation that McGeachin is preparing a primary run against Little in two years. If there is a vote on a recall, Idahoans won’t have to wait two years for a Little/McGeachin matchup.
Little and McGeachin are on speaking terms, after weeks of silence, but they hardly are working partners. Since taking office in 2017, McGeachin mostly has been shoved in a corner, aside from performing her constitutional duties (presiding over the Senate and serving as acting governor when Little is out of state). Her communication with the governor during the early part of the pandemic crisis has been through letters, made public through her newsletters.
Little, in his handling of the COVID-19 issue, has followed almost to the letter the guidelines outlined by President Trump and health experts. Strangely, McGeachin – a strong Trump supporter – offered glowing praise to the president for his measured approach for re-opening the economy, while criticizing the governor for not moving fast enough. Still, Little may have spared himself some anguish by talking with McGeachin before issuing stay-at-home orders and attempting to have the lieutenant governor on his side.
It’s a mistake to underestimate McGeachin, but an easy thing to do. She’s the first woman to serve in that high office and has a pleasant appearance – unlike some of the old codgers there. She has gotten plenty of advice from senior members on everything from running the Senate’s business to pounding the gavel. But McGeachin, who served for a decade in the Idaho House, has seemed out of place in the Senate chamber.
She reminds me of someone else who didn’t fit in with the established politicians – the late Helen Chenoweth, who served three terms in Congress and was often ridiculed for her outspoken views and occasionally strange votes. But McGeachin – as with Chenoweth – is a hit with her right-wing base. She interviews well (especially on conservative talk shows) and has a following with her newsletters.
Her political path does not need to include being part of Little’s inner circle, or running against the governor in two years. Her best route would be running for re-election and continuing to play to her conservative base. She could well expand that base by using the kind of personal touches that made Chenoweth so popular with her constituents in the First District. Helen couldn’t care less about what anyone else thought about her.
With aging politicians holding a tight grip on the higher offices, and no apparent up-and-comers waiting in line, the governorship could be McGeachin’s for the taking in 2026.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: In last week’s column, the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s position on an issue was misrepresented. The IFF opposed a bill that would prohibit businesses from asking job applicants about their criminal records.