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Idaho governor nixes lieutenant governor’s mask-mandate ban

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Friday issued an executive order repealing a mask mandate prohibition put in place while he was out of the state by the lieutenant governor, describing her actions as a tyrannical abuse of power and an “irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.”

The Republican governor up to now had been reserved in his comments about Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, a member of the far-right who has worked to undermine Little’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week she announced her run for governor, challenging the first-term incumbent Little. Her executive order Thursday banning mask mandates in schools and public buildings is widely seen as part of that campaign, and she is already using that executive order in fundraising efforts.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin announces she will run for Idaho Governor at the Downtown Event Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.John Roark / The Idaho Post-Register via AP file

Little has never issued a statewide mask-mandate, but counties, cities and schools have issued their own directives. Many have been lifted as more Idaho residents have been vaccinated, but two counties and 10 cities still have them in place, as do multiple schools.

Little tweeted Friday afternoon that he “does not like political stunts over the rule of law. However, the significant consequences of the Lt. Governor’s flimsy executive order require me to clean up a mess.”

McGeachin signed the executive order banning mask requirements while Little was at a Republican conference in Tennessee. She said in a statement that she was acting as acting governor and that the executive order prohibits the state or other jurisdictions such as school districts from imposing mask mandates.

The governor’s office told NBC affiliate KTVB of Boise on Thursday that McGeachin “did not make Governor Little aware of her executive order ahead of time.” The statement also noted there has not been a statewide mask mandate.

“Idahoans value local control and the local approach to addressing important issues,” Little’s statement said.

Some cities that had required masks have already lifted them. Boise, the state’s largest city and capital, on May 14 said it would no longer require masks.

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A number of other states, including Democratic-led Minnesota and New Jersey, have lifted or are largely lifting statewide mask requirements as vaccinations have risen, and in the wake of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that vaccinated people don’t need masks in many settings.

McGeachin’s tweeted Thursday that the executive order was “to protect the rights and liberties of individuals and businesses.”

McGeachin told The Associated Press that “I’ve been listening to people all across the state with the concern about, especially, why are little kids being forced to wear masks in school.” She said she hoped Little would allow it to stand.

In a statement she posted on Twitter, McGeachin said Friday that Little “chose to revoke your personal freedoms by rescinding my order and imposing mask mandates on thousands of Idaho children, rejecting the conservative solutions embraced by leaders like Gov. Abbott in Texas and Gov. DeSantis in Florida.”

Idaho has had more than 191,800 cases of Covid-19 throughout the pandemic, and 2,090 people have died, according to the state health department. About 590,000 of Idaho’s 1.8 million residents have been vaccinated.

The executive order signed by McGeachin does not apply to federal buildings, hospitals or health care facilities.

McGeachin announced on May 19 that she is running for governor. The election for governor is in 2022.

Little, who was also lieutenant governor and elected governor in 2018, has not made clear if he will seek another term.