The sheriff of Idaho County — or any county for that matter — is elected to do one thing: Enforce the laws.
He does not have the right to pick and choose which laws to enforce.
And he certainly has no authority to make new laws. That right is reserved, under some circumstances, to the people, the Legislature, the executive branch and — if appropriate — the courts. It’s all part of the system of checks and balances.
Of course, there is such a thing as discretion. Every police officer makes judgment calls. A sheriff may decide to issue a warning to — or even ignore — a motorist traveling at 70 mph along a highway posted at 65 mph.
But the sheriff can not on his own decide to raise the speed limit to 70 mph. Nor can he become too arbitrary before facing accusations of favoritism: Is there one standard for his friends while those outside his circle get rougher treatment?
That’s not how Doug Giddings sees his job.
Now he’d rather you refer to him as HRM Doug I.
This weekend, Giddings asserted he alone could invalidate Gov. Brad Little’s stay-at-home order within his domain.
“Though our population has had no active virus cases for some time, the governor’s order has dramatically restricted our God-given rights and also dismantled our fragile economy,” Giddings said in a release issued Saturday. “The governor’s order is enforceable only by city police, county sheriffs or state police and only then as a misdemeanor citation. ... I have stated clearly in a prior editorial to the people of this county that the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office will not be issuing citations to citizens who are going about their necessary business.”
Whether that means Giddings is overtly encouraging businesses to open up in violation of Little’s order or not, it may represent the broadest assault yet on the governor’s authority. Even Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler only went so far as to challenge the governor’s decision as unwise and urged him to “reinstate our Constitution.”
Keep in mind that Little is operating within authority the people have given him through the Constitution and state laws — not to mention court decisions.
And here are a couple more legal options available to him.
Little could declare Idaho County a lawless outpost and “direct the director of the Idaho State Police to act independently of the sheriff and prosecuting attorney ... to execute and enforce” the laws.
There’s always the alternative — however distasteful — of declaring martial law, at which point Giddings would answer to him.
Or there’s the method Washington Gov. Jay Inslee employed against Franklin County commissioners who voted to invalidate the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order in the Evergreen State. Inslee asserted his authority and then reminded individual businesses within Franklin County they could be held accountable for breaking the law. Reading between the lines, you have to wonder whether an enterprise would want to risk its license to do business.
Two of the three Franklin County commissioners voted to rescind their decision.
Little has done none of that. Whether it’s a bar in Nampa, a gym in Middleton or a sheriff in Idaho County, the governor has avoided taking a heavy handed approach in favor of an honor system.
All of which makes sense when you consider the decision to open up the economy does not rest with the politicians — it belongs to the consumers. Until people decide mingling in a bar, restaurant or auditorium does not put them at risk of contracting the coronavirus and/or spreading the contagion to a more vulnerable person, they’re going to remain cautious.
Likewise, what business wants to risk acquiring the reputation as a COVID-19 hot spot?
That may explain Giddings’ more sober assessment Monday: “It was an unsure thing. Nobody knew what the actual rule was. I was trying to clarify it.”
Could that suggest King Doug is putting aside his crown? — M.T.