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Idaho lieutenant gov. appears in video slamming virus rules, whether ‘a pandemic may or may not be occurring’

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/30/2020 Teo Armus
a man and woman taking a selfie in a car posing for the camera: Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R) appeared in a video that appeared to question the existence of the coronavirus pandemic and claimed the state's restrictions violated individual rights. Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R) appeared in a video that appeared to question the existence of the coronavirus pandemic and claimed the state's restrictions violated individual rights.

The video shows Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R) sitting in the driver’s seat of a pickup truck, a Bible in her hand, as she rails against the coronavirus restrictions carried out in the state she helps lead.

“We recognize that all of us are by nature, free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights,” she says, grabbing a gun and placing it on top of the Bible with a wide smile on her face. “Among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property and pursuing happiness and securing safety."

The video, released earlier this week by a libertarian group called the Idaho Freedom Foundation, claims that Gov. Brad Little (R) infringed liberties to battle a pandemic that “may or may not be occurring."

It’s the latest broadside in a months-long conflict between McGeachin and Little over how to handle a virus that has killed at least 615 in the state and infected more than 62,000. In contrast to Little’s phased reopening strategy, McGeachin has consistently argued for a looser approach — even amid a recent uptick in infections.

On Monday, after Little announced he would again limit gatherings of 50 or more people, McGeachin pushed back on her Facebook page, saying she was “disappointed” in the governor’s decision.

“Our state is moving toward more top-down control over our businesses and citizens,” she wrote. “We should be supporting Main Street right now, not adopting the draconian tactics of liberal municipalities that have only proven to make matters worse.”

But with some hospitals in the state nearing capacity, Little warned that Idaho was at “a crisis with our health-care system” that needed to take priority over all else.

“I sincerely hope that some people have passed the point of thinking the pandemic is not real or is not a big deal, or that their personal actions don’t really affect anything,” he said at a Monday news conference, according to Boise State Public Radio.

Plenty of Democratic and Republican governors have faced backlash from a vocal minority of residents and lawmakers for their health directives, but few have faced such vocal opposition from their No. 2 in the state capitol. Alabama’s lieutenant governor, Will Ainsworth (R), blasted a statewide mask mandate instituted by Gov. Kay Ivey (R) over the summer.

McGeachin, 57, previously served in the Idaho state legislature for a decade before working on a statewide committee to elect President Trump and serving as a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention. Two years ago, she was elected Idaho’s first female lieutenant governor.

Unlike in some other states, Idaho’s top two state executives do not run on a joint ticket, so she and Little competed and campaigned separately. When the pandemic hit in the spring, they quickly began to clash about how and whether to shut down businesses and public life.

By May, the Idaho Statesman reported, they were no longer speaking to each other directly. After Little ordered bars to stay closed until mid-June, McGeachin defied the directive and reopened her family’s Idaho Falls tavern weeks before the order lifted.

“I lose sleep at night because the heavy hand of our government is hurting so many Idahoans,” she wrote in a scathing May op-ed in the Idaho Press. The state’s residents were “sidelined and left to watch silently as the government [decided] which businesses were ‘essential’ and which ones were not.”

Later that month, the day after Little’s stay-at-home order was lifted, McGeachin attended a “Disobey Idaho” protest outside the Idaho Capitol building. Then, she flew to Kendrick, a town in the Idaho Panhandle, to voice her support for a brewery that had been cited for violating statewide restrictions, according to the Daily Beast. Speaking to the online news site, Christine Lohman, co-owner of the brewery, compared Idaho under Little to Nazi Germany.

With cases trending upward in Idaho, Little announced Monday that the state would move back to Stage 3 of its coronavirus reopening plan. That phase allows businesses to remain open and in-person church services to continue but limits gatherings of 50 people or more.

The following day, the Idaho Freedom Foundation released a video of elected officials reciting a “declaration to Idaho residents and officials” that it had published on its website earlier this month. Besides McGeachin, the video featured 10 Republicans who currently serve in the Idaho legislature or are running for it unopposed, according to the Statesman.

The declaration argues that the state’s virus restrictions are hurting Idahoans and infringing upon their rights while appearing to question whether the pandemic is real.

“The fact that a pandemic may or may not be occurring,” the document says, “changes nothing about the meaning or intent of the state constitution in the preservation of our inalienable rights."

Dustin Hurst, the group’s vice president, said in an email to The Washington Post that many viewers were “missing the point of the video.”

“The aim wasn’t to question the pandemic, but rather to reaffirm that our rights exist pandemic or not,” he said. “Some public officials act as if they can restrict rights without consequence or pushback. That’s just not how this works.”

It demands “an end to the emergency orders issued by state and local government officials” as well as the “restoration of our constitutionally protected rights.”

And if more rules are coming, the declaration warns, its signatories may not comply.

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