Luke Malek

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Our lieutenant governor is blowing it.

When Janice McGeachin became Idaho’s lieutenant governor in 2018, she swore an oath to defend Idaho against “all enemies, foreign and domestic and to obey the orders of the President of the United States and the governor of the State of Idaho.”

McGeachin’s actions since the outbreak – Idaho’s greatest enemy since World War II when it comes to threatening our public health and prosperity – show that she is actively breaching her sworn duties. Under the guise of “political courage,” McGeachin is actually demonstrating cowardice and incompetence. At his May 14th press conference, Gov. Brad Little said she has been unwilling to speak with him for three weeks. That’s not leadership, and Idahoans deserve better from their second-in-command.

McGeachin is missing an opportunity to be at the table making decisions about how to make Idaho strong. As widely reported in the press, from the beginning of the outbreak, McGeachin has encouraged behaviors that flout the recommendations of physicians and scientists, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By speaking at rallies promoted by the fringe Idaho Freedom Foundation, palling around with the likes of Ammon Bundy, and promoting on social media that Idahoans should disobey Gov. Little’s stay-home order, she’s encouraging breaking the very laws she’s sworn to uphold. Moreover, she’s putting all Idahoans’ health at risk.

In April, McGeachin sent a letter to Gov. Brad Little, lambasting his efforts to balance safety and economic stability. On April 25, she was the keynote speaker at a rally urging defiance of public health recommendations, and on May 1, she attended the opening of a northern Idaho brewery, going against the governor’s phased reopening plan.

Earlier this week, McGeachin authored a guest opinion that attempts to stoke outrage and politicize the clear directives of Idaho’s health care leaders about how our state can reopen the economy as quickly as possible while keeping the curve flat. Sure enough, as McGeachin’s irresponsible rhetoric attracts more attention, cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, with more than 30 new cases on May 12. That fact is troubling because our state had not had any new cases since late April.

Meanwhile, McGeachin is isolating herself politically by aligning with a vocal minority of Idahoans, many of them alt-right transplants from California, who are more interested in fomenting rage and racism than solving the real problems Idahoans care about. A statewide poll commissioned by the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry found more than 75% of Idahoans approve of Little’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 80% support the governor’s four-stage “Idaho Rebounds” plan for reopening our economy, and the poll found particularly strong support among Republicans.

Idahoans are not yet in the clear from this invisible enemy, and taking personal responsibility for social distancing will be required until there is a vaccine. That may take years. As I write, there are nearly 4.5 million infected people globally, and more than 85,000 deaths in the United States – more than the Vietnam War. COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets, in highest concentrations when people cough or sneeze, but it can also be transmitted through breathing while talking, or when saliva touches a surface or the air. Because people with no symptoms can carry and spread the virus, until there is a vaccine, no one is safe. We must mitigate our risk by following public health guidelines and working together as communities and as a state. In the meantime, businesses of all sizes should take advantage of the state and federal resources available to them at commerce.idaho.gov/covid-19/.

Luke Malek is a former prosecutor and former Republican lawmaker from 2012-2017, representing North Idaho in the state House of Representatives. He and his wife and business partner, Tara Malek, split their time between Boise and Coeur d’Alene.

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