Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin has almost no influence in this administration, and it’s no wonder why.
The boss, Gov. Brad Little, is a self-described policy wonk who is as sharp as they come on issues. His decisions on the management of the coronavirus have been guided by scientific data, consultation with health experts and talking with fellow governors to see what he can learn from other states.
He hears criticisms from those who think he has gone too far with his emergency orders, or that he should add a mask requirement, which he has resisted. Legislators complain that the governor has overstepped his authority and has, in some areas, violated the state’s Constitution. Through it all, Little has stayed firm with his actions.
McGeachin’s approach is quite different, as Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported last week. In September, McGeachin attended a campaign rally for President Trump in Nevada and came home with a proposal to spend millions of CARES Act funds for installation of disinfectant cubes at the Idaho Capitol. The National Institutes of Health has labeled cubes, which do not meet health standards, as ineffective and potentially dangerous.
Last month, she appeared with several legislators in a video in which the underlying message was that they would ignore future COVID orders. Days later, responding to a surge of COVID cases, Little scaled back the state to Stage 2 of the Idaho Rebounds plan and called on the National Guard for assistance.
So, it’s difficult for those inside the administration to take McGeachin seriously, even though she is the proverbial “heartbeat away” from being governor and temporarily serves as governor when Little is out of the state.
But for McGeachin, her political life does not revolve around what statehouse bureaucrats might say or think about her. She has a title, a platform and a generous following. There are rumblings that McGeachin is preparing to run for Little’s job in 2022, and that would be a good idea. That would mean no more walking on eggshells or worrying about reporters trying to draw her into conflicts with the governor.
In practical terms, McGeachin doesn’t need four more years working with an administration that treats her with the respect of Kermit the Frog. And while she might gain some satisfaction by winning another election as lieutenant governor, four more years in political Siberia won’t accomplish anything either.
Governors can accomplish things in policy and lieutenant governors generally can’t, especially if they are not “team players” in the administration. For lieutenant governors of the past – Butch Otter, Jim Risch and Little – the office has served as a nice landing area while waiting for something better to come along. But that’s not McGeachin’s style. She was elected as the conservative candidate for lieutenant governor and she has continued to play to that base.
Can she win? Absolutely. Think of the people who would support her candidacy -- folks who saw her photos at a Trump rally and wished they were there … friends of the Idaho Freedom Foundation … anybody who hates government … legislators who equate Little to Cuban dictators … angry protesters who broke down a door in the House gallery during a special session this summer … guys who think it’s OK to openly carry firearms into a committee hearing room … those who burned masks in Boise soon after the mayor issued a requirement to wear masks … those who think that the pandemic is overblown and that Dr. Anthony Fauci is a quack doctor … and normal everyday people who think that any form of government lockdowns are just plain wrong.
Candidates have won elections in Idaho with less firepower. It’s a good bet that McGeachin’s support from conservatives is stronger than when she was elected in 2018. In many ways, she reminds me of Helen Chenoweth, the conservative firebrand who during her three terms in Congress was loathed by liberals, scorned on the editorial pages and wildly popular in Idaho’s First District.
For certain, McGeachin would be facing a big challenge by taking on a sitting governor and the political establishment. But as people such as Chenoweth and former Congressman Raul Labrador have shown in the past – and McGeachin herself showed in 2018 -- anti-establishment conservatives do win sometimes.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.