Last week, Idaho Gov. Brad Little took the responsible step of placing the state under a stay-at-home order. Maybe he waited longer than he should have, but Little is clearly among the mainstream of governors acting to break the chains of infection with the few tools at his disposal.
If it works, social distancing may keep the national death toll down to 100,000 or 200,000 people, which is what President Donald Trump says would be a “very good job.” In case you’re keeping count, that’s more than three times the number of names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Yet, Rep. Tim Remington, R-Coeur d’Alene, is openly undermining the order.
Sunday, Remington was back at work as pastor at The Altar Church in Coeur d’Alene. Unlike others in his profession — notably Cody Stauffer, pastor of the Lewiston First United Methodist Church and the Clarkston United Methodist Church — Remington did not choose to connect with his parishioners through social media.
Judging from a YouTube video, he had more than two dozen people in his pews and many pf them were not keeping the recommended distance of at least 6 feet.
“They have just showed everybody in this nation how because of a flu, OK, they can completely take away your First Amendment rights — the right to assemble and everything that belongs to that — they just annihilated,” he said.
Remington, by the way, sought and secured Little’s appointment to fill the seat vacated when Rep. John Green, R-Rathdrum, was convicted in a Texas courtroom of conspiring to defraud the government. He then went on to benefit from passage of a bill allowing Remington to run a youth residential drug treatment program without a state license. Little vetoed the bill Tuesday.
When he assumed that office, Remington pledged to “support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Idaho, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties (of this office) according to the best of my ability.”
How is openly defying a lawful order in a crisis supporting the Constitution?
As outlined by Idaho Politics Weekly columnist and attorney Steve Taggart, here’s what Little has on his side: the 10th Amendment reserving rights, including preserving public safety, to the states; at least two Idaho laws that authorize Little to act during “a period of extreme emergency” and a 115-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Whatever authority Remington has on his side, he still has to explain the morality of exposing some of his flock — as well as anyone who comes in contact with them — to undue risk.
Remington is one of 105 state lawmakers.
Janice McGeachin of Idaho Falls is the only lieutenant governor Idaho has. In fact, she’s the designated successor to Little — even on a temporary basis should the governor momentarily cross the state border.
Barely three hours had passed since Little declared the emergency before his No. 2 was out on Facebook:
“This afternoon, Gov. Brad Little issued a sweeping, statewide stay-at-home order that came as a surprise to many Idahoans, myself included. Effective immediately this order closes all non-essential businesses, forbids all non-essential travel, and bans all public gatherings for the next three weeks.”
Then she launched her own poll: “Do you support the governor’s decision?”
What could possibly be the efficacy of asking for a show of hands in a health emergency? Does contagion respond to a poll?
Ironically, 74 percent of the 13,500 people who responded to McGeachin’s poll backed Little’s decision. But you have to wonder if that was the result she expected.
It’s worth repeating: Think twice, Gov. Little, before leaving this state in McGeachin’s hands for even an hour.
The unlikely hero in this story is the guy who thought he should be governor.
A retired emergency room physician and Boise developer, Tommy Ahlquist placed third in the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary behind former Congressman Raul Labrador and Little.
During that campaign, Ahlquist tried to be all things to all people. But when it comes to this public health emergency, Ahlquist has been a voice of moral authority.
He criticized state lawmakers for dawdling around Boise and potentially spreading the contagion when they could have adjourned. “As a father, physician and a member of this community, I find it completely reckless and the worst display of leadership that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime to still be in session,” he tweeted on March 18. “What happened to lead by example. Unbelievable!”
And when Little issued his emergency order, Ahlquist tweeted: “After several calls today, I need to make one thing clear. @GovernorLittle is one of the finest men I know. He loves this state and I support him 100%. I am proud of his decision today and will spend the next 21 days doing all I can to support his order and leadership.”
Here’s how you know Ahlquist is sincere. A private citizen under no obligation to say or do anything, Ahlquist has nothing to gain from tweaking the noses of those within the GOP base or the Idaho Freedom Foundation who are critical of Little’s decision.
When you get into a bind, who among these three would you trust? — M.T.