This year may not be a banner year for Gov. Brad Little or the Idaho Legislature, which is approaching the tail end of an 18-day COVID recess. But it has been a nice session for Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin as far as raising her political profile and conservatives in general.
Since the start of this year’s session, McGeachin – with help of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and legislators – has been doing weekly programs called “Capitol Clarity,” aimed at bringing everyday Idahoans closer to the Legislature. The segments included tutorials about the legislative process, how bills become laws and tips on testifying before committees. They also served as an outlet for conservative legislators to present their positions. Recent guests included Rep. Karey Hanks (St. Anthony), who talked about her bill to eliminate government mask mandates and Sen. Christy Zito (Hammett), who discussed her bill called the “Small Arms Protection Act,” designed to protect gun owners from regulations and eventual confiscation.
McGeachin now has an expanded audience, with Boise’s KBOI radio adding “Capitol Clarity” to its talk-show lineup on Thursday afternoons. As lieutenant governor, McGeachin has almost no say in public policy, but her higher profile certainly serves her well whether she seeks re-election or decides to take on Little in next year’s Republican primary. The governor’s race is one that she could win in light of the controversy over Little’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and McGeachin has made it clear that she’s not siding with the governor.
McGeachin’s base is no longer confined to the small band of conservative rebels who are fed up with the political establishment. It now potentially includes anyone who voted for Donald Trump (McGeachin was among the most avid supporters) … anyone who doesn’t like the governor’s emergency actions … anyone who dislikes mask mandates and business lockdowns … anyone who is skeptical about vaccines … and anyone who cheers the Legislature’s efforts to reform education and put the conservative stamp on social justice.
That’s a strong enough base to win any election in Idaho, outside of Blaine County. McGeachin also seems to have generous support from like-minded conservatives in the Legislature – which is growing both in numbers and stature.
For now, McGeachin is focused on getting through next year, and she provides some populist appeal in her recent newsletter.
“This means another two and a half weeks (at least) before the Legislature will take up proposals for tax relief, education reform, and efforts to constrain executive emergency powers,” she wrote. “Wouldn’t it have been better to accomplish these goals over the last 10 weeks instead of putting them off until (what was supposed to be) the very last week of the session?”
Yes, it would be nice if the Legislature could move faster, but in the interest of “Capitol Clarity,” that’s not how it works. The legislative process is slow and deliberative by design. It involves extensive committee work, lengthy hearings and exhausting floor debates in the House and Senate. The snail’s pace works well for setting budgets and public policy in the long run … not so much for dealing with emergencies, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
But conservatives, and McGeachin, have made their mark with their vocal opposition to the governor’s actions. The so-called “liberty caucus” in the House, once viewed as political outcasts, is now closer to the mainstream on the GOP side.
“Our agenda includes lowering taxes, reducing government and restoring freedoms to Idahoans,” said Rep. Ron Nate of Rexburg, one of the leading House conservatives.
Republicans have been standing behind those principles for decades, but there are added features in today’s environment. They include initiatives such as molding education to conform more to “Idaho values” and abolishing the Powerball lottery because what other nations might do with that revenue.
“The House and Senate, albeit slowly, are getting the needed work done on emergency orders, gatherings restrictions, and balance of power clarity,” Nate says. “We will have tax relief, and we will have some freedom wins (school choice, health rights, business freedom).”
It remains to be seen what will get done this year and how long it will take for lawmakers to complete their business. One thing for certain is that McGeachin and her friends will continue finding ways to gain attention.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org