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Idaho lieutenant governor signs ban on mask mandates while governor is out of state

CNN logo CNN 5/27/2021 By Caroline Kelly, CNN
a person holding a sign: In this March 6, 2021, file photo, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin speaks at a mask-burning event at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise. © Nathan Howard/Getty Images In this March 6, 2021, file photo, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin speaks at a mask-burning event at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise.

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin issued an executive order on Thursday banning mask mandates while Gov. Brad Little was unaware and out of town.

"The lieutenant governor did not make Gov. Little aware of her executive order ahead of time," Marissa Morrison Hyer, Little's press secretary, told CNN.

Morrison Hyer said Little is out of state this week "collaborating with Republican governors at the (Republican Governors Association) convention in Nashville." When asked whether Little supported the order and would let it stand, she pointed to a statement from the office noting that "the Governor's Office is reviewing the Lt. Governor's executive order. Governor Little has never put in place a statewide mask mandate."

The Idaho Statesman previously reported that McGeachin had signed the order unbeknownst to Little, both of whom are Republicans.

McGeachin tweeted Thursday that she had barred state entities and officials from requiring mask wearing.


Video: Hear why this governor is keeping state's mask mandate (CNN)

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"Today, as acting Governor of the State of Idaho, I signed an Executive Order to protect the rights and liberties of individuals and businesses by prohibiting the state and its political subdivisions — including public schools — from imposing mask mandates in our state," she wrote.

McGeachin, who announced her gubernatorial run last week, has repeatedly and publicly clashed with Little over the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, effectively establishing herself as the champion of the Trump wing of the party while painting Little as part of the timid establishment.

Little issued a stay-at-home order for the state on March 25, 2020, and let it lapse on April 30, 2020. On that date, he unveiled a four-stage process to reopen the state, beginning with a first phase that allowed 90% of Idaho's businesses to reopen.

McGeachin wrote in an op-ed in the Idaho Statesman last May, "I lose sleep at night because the heavy hand of our government is hurting so many Idahoans."

In October, Little imposed a return to Phase 3 that limited gatherings to 50 people and required people who visit nursing homes to wear masks. In turn, McGeachin and 10 Republican state legislators or legislators-elect appeared in a video in which they seemed to question the existence of the pandemic while declaring they would follow no state or local emergency orders relating to the coronavirus.

"The fact that a pandemic may or may not be occurring changes nothing about the meaning or intent of the state constitution and the preservation of our inalienable rights," state Rep. Karey Hanks said in the video, reading lines from a statement they had all signed.

Little has faced similar pushback from other members of his party. The state's Senate Committee on State Affairs voted out a resolution in January to end Idaho's emergency declaration, which the governor sharply criticized.

"I believe in my heart that what the Idaho Legislature is doing is harmful to our people and wrong for Idaho," Little said in a video, adding, "I urge my partners in the Legislature to stop the political games and do what is right for the people of Idaho."

At the time, Idaho had seen 158,200 cases and 1,654 deaths from the virus, about 8,853 cases per 100,000 people -- the 15th highest rate in the country, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

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