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At stake


So much for the lieutenant governor’s job being a soft-landing place, and automatic ticket, to a higher political office.

Patience paid off for Butch Otter, Jim Risch and Brad Little to hang around a few years in that low-profile office until essentially being anointed to something better. Otter became a congressman, then governor; Risch took over as governor before going to the U.S. Senate; and Little is the sitting governor.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who in just her first term in office, isn’t waiting around for “her turn” for a higher office. With a healthy part of the right-wing base on her side, she’s doing something that rarely happens in politics – taking on a governor from her own party in next year’s Republican primary election. And she’s pulling no punches in her criticisms of Little.

Ironically, on the day she announced her run for governor, Little’s office issued a news release outlining accomplishments during the recently-completed legislative session. Included on that list were “historic” tax relief, the most conservative budget in years and investments in transportation.

“Despite a lot of noise, distractions, and of course the unfortunate unprecedented duration of this year’s legislative session, we were able to act on the issues that matter most in the day-to-day lives of the people we serve,” Little said. “Years of fiscally conservative leadership and prompt action during the pandemic positioned our state with a record budget surplus while other states face cuts. We’ve proven once again that conservative principles bring opportunity for citizens during the highs and the lows. We’re looking forward, and the future is bright.”

Not conservative enough, in McGeachin’s view. And not nearly compassionate enough in the governor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. She, too, sees brighter days ahead – with Little out of office.

“Idahoans have witnessed some serious, egregious actions over this past year. We saw repeated attacks on our constitutional, republican form of government,” she said during her announcement.

“Last year, the governor declared that some of your businesses and your employees were not essential. …I am here to tell you that every life is essential and every job is essential,” she said. “I refuse to stand by and allow these abuses to go unchallenged. That would be a disservice to our state and a violation of my sworn oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Idaho.”

McGeachin, an avid supporter of former President Trump, says “simply put, the status quo has got to go. …Lobbying groups and special interests exercise too far much power in Boise. Cronyism will have no place in a McGeachin administration.”

Well … there would be a different set of cronies, for sure. The Idaho Freedom Foundation, which over the last decade has been a guiding light for some legislators while being largely dismissed by governors, has developed a solid working relationship with the lieutenant governor. In a McGeachin administration, the freedom foundation could play a big role in budgetary and policy issues. Wayne Hoffman, the IFF president, could become one of the most powerful people in Idaho politics with McGeachin in the governor’s chair.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings of White Bird, a leading House conservative and candidate for lieutenant governor, outlined what’s at stake during a post-session news conference.

“Right now, government is broken. The legislative process is broken,” she said, citing the withholding of more than 185 pieces of legislation that were not allowed to go through the process. “Because of that, we have an executive branch that is just ruling over the people. Over the last year, we’ve had 25 executive orders that are being used to enforce laws, to remove laws and usurping the legislative process. That’s a problem.”

Although more conservatives are getting elected, she said, “no matter how many conservative legislators we have, we need a strong, courageous leader in the executive branch.”

As rocky as this session was for Little, it was nothing compared to what we will see next year. Look for a lot of political posturing from the governor and lieutenant governor, with a host of legislators taking sides on both ends.

To borrow from the late sportscaster Keith Jackson, next year’s legislative session will be a real slobberknocker.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at

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