Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin has been reduced to asking for a few hundred bucks in back pay.
But $285 a day is $285 a day. That’s roughly how much more money Idaho’s No. 2 gets for an eight-hour shift as acting governor.
“What is the process for determining the pay differential based on the time frame that the governor is out of the state?” reads the memo McGeachin filed with Division of Financial Management Administrator Alex Adams last week.
Pathetic, you say?
McGeachin is not so impoverished that she needs every dime.
What it reveals, however, is how badly she’s been outmaneuvered by the man whose job she covets in next spring’s GOP primary election, Republican Gov. Brad Little.
After taking office in 2019, McGeachin had all the powers traditionally reserved to her office — among them, the authority to serve as acting governor whenever the elected chief executive left the state.
Idaho’s governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately. At times, the two have represented different political parties. They’ve even been rivals in an upcoming election. Nonetheless, all of them understood the unwritten rules: When the governor was out of state, the No. 2 respectfully kept the lights on.
Not McGeachin. The second Little left her in charge in early 2019, she consorted with militia fringe groups on the Statehouse grounds.
In May, she used Little’s trip to Nashville, Tenn., to a Western Governors Association meeting as a pretense to issue an unconstitutional executive order banning local face mask mandates. Little promptly rescinded it upon his return.
When Little traveled to the Texas-Mexico border early last month, McGeachin issued another executive order banning schools and universities from requiring proof of vaccination from COVID-19 or a negative test. No such mandate had been issued, and Little quickly rescinded it.
Soon after, Little pointed to an emerging legal theory that holds the governor does not relinquish his powers simply by leaving the state. Parsing the Idaho Constitution carefully, it holds that what was true in 1890 no longer applies. With the advent of modern communication and transportation, the chief executive remains fully capable of governing from a distance.
Then he delivered this message to McGeachin: Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
“In the event I am ever unable to perform the official duties of governor as may be required due to disability, effective absence, or otherwise, rest assured that my staff will notify your office immediately,” Little informed McGeachin on Oct. 29. “Unless, and until, your office receives such notice, there is neither a need nor authorization for you to act in an acting governor capacity.”
On Wednesday, Little left for Florida where he attended the America First Policy Institute Gala attended by former President Donald Trump. On Friday he returned.
McGeachin learned of it after the fact.
That’s where things will stand unless McGeachin goes to court.
Her backpay memo could be the premise for such a legal challenge. Under the rules, unless the governor designates her as acting governor, she doesn’t draw the extra compensation. So the monetary injury could give her the legal standing to assert Little has misread the constitution’s temporary succession clause.
It’s not without risk.
During her brief inquisition of Idaho public education last summer, McGeachin so recklessly defied the Public Records Act that a judge both fined her and ordered her to pay the legal fees of the Idaho Press Club that took her to court — to the tune of about $28,793. McGeachin wants the Legislature to bail her out.
If she makes this latest fight and loses, however, she will have blown another wad of your tax dollars on attorney’s fees.
If she prevails? Someone is bound to push a constitutional amendment enabling a gubernatorial nominee to select his own running mate.
Either way, the lieutenant governor could be a weaker political office than it was less than three years ago when McGeachin inherited it.
And she has no one to blame but herself. — M.T.