BOISE — Idaho Lt. Gov Janice McGeachin took to Twitter on Thursday to complain that Gov. Brad Little briefly left the state, but didn’t authorize her to act as governor in his absence.
“Maybe Brad needs to brush up on the Idaho Constitution,” McGeachin wrote, above side-by-side images of Little’s July 29 letter to her notifying her of his trip, and the text of Article IV, Section 12 of the state Constitution, which is headed, “Lieutenant Governor to Act As Governor.” The section states that if the governor becomes ineligible to serve, including due to “absence from the state, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” the lieutenant governor steps in.
McGeachin, who like Little is a Republican, is among an array of candidates who have announced they’re challenging Little in the 2022 GOP primary. Little hasn’t yet announced his re-election plans.
On May 27, while Little was out of state speaking at a Republican Governors Association conference in Nashville, Tennessee, McGeachin, as acting governor, issued a surprise executive order attempting to ban all mask requirements by Idaho local governments, state agencies or schools. Little retroactively rescinded the order the next day, calling it “an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.”
A subsequent Idaho Attorney General’s opinion found the order was both illegal and unconstitutional, and attempted to create new law through executive order.
In his Thursday letter to McGeachin, Little wrote, “I write to inform you that on Thursday, July 29, 2021, I will be temporarily out of the state of Idaho. I am attending an event in Preston and will be flying in and out of the Logan-Cache Airport in Logan, Utah.”
“My time in Utah will be brief and will not at all hinder my ability to perform any official duties as Idaho’s elected governor,” Little wrote. “I am not aware of any official business that will require your services in an acting governor capacity. Thus, you are not authorized to act as governor during my brief time out of state. In the event my absence renders me unable to carry out the duties of the office, my staff will notify you immediately.”
The Idaho Press obtained a copy of the letter under the Idaho Public Records Act.
Little’s press secretary, Marissa Morrison, said Little on Thursday flew from Boise to Twin Falls to speak at the Idaho Recovery in Action Summit, then headed to Preston to attend the “Famous Preston Night Rodeo,” for which he flew into Logan, Utah.
“He was in Utah for approximately 20 minutes,” Morrison said in an emailed statement. He flew back to Boise from Malad, and didn’t leave the state again.
“Gov. Little’s brief time in Utah did not in any way disable him in his ability to act as governor,” Morrison wrote. She said the governor’s office believes the constitutional provision comes into play only when “the governor’s absence from the state renders him unable to execute the duties of the office.”
Morrison acknowledged that’s a change from the office’s previous interpretation.
She also said the governor has no out-of-state travel planned in the next few weeks.
McGeachin and her office didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on Friday.