The governor of Idaho nixed an executive order a day after his lieutenant governor placed a ban on coronavirus mask mandates, describing her actions as a tyrannical abuse of power and a "self-serving political stunt."
Governor Brad Little of Idaho reversed the order of Republican Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin, who took action against mask mandates, even though Idaho never had a statewide one, while the governor was out of town attending the Republican Governors Association conference in Nashville.
Ms McGeachin has far-right views and has worked to undermine Mr Little's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, she issued an executive order ending local mask mandates in schools and public buildings.
Though Mr Little never issued a state mask mandate, he has encouraged widespread mask usage. On the local level, counties, cities and schools have enacted their own mask mandates, and many have been lifted as the number of vaccinated people in Idaho increases.
There are two counties and 10 cities that still have mask orders in place.
Mr Little explained his reasons for reversing Ms McGeachin's order on Friday.
“I have opposed a statewide mask mandate all along because I don’t think top-down mandates change behavior the way personal choice does,” Mr Little said in a statement.
He said he opposed the move because it stripped the agency of local officials to govern their counties and cities as they deemed necessary.
“But, as your Governor, when it came to masks, I also didn’t undermine separately elected officials who, under Idaho law, are given authorities to take measures they believe will protect the health and safety of the people they serve,” he said.
Ms McGeachin did not notify the governor of her plans to rescind the mask orders.
The governor condemned her order.
“Taking the earliest opportunity to act solitarily on a highly politicized, polarizing issue without conferring with local jurisdictions, legislators, and the sitting Governor is, simply put, an abuse of power,” Mr Little said. “This kind of over-the-top executive action amounts to tyranny — something we all oppose. How ironic that the action comes from a person who has groused about tyranny, executive overreach, and balance of power for months.”
Ms McGeachin shot back in a Twitter post defending her actions.
“I understand that protecting individual liberty means fighting against tyranny at ALL levels of government — federal, state, and local,” she wrote. “It is your God-given right to make your own health decisions, and no state, city, or school district ever has the authority to violate your unalienable rights.”
The governor pointed out that had her order remained in place, it could have put vulnerable people at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
"This is why you do your homework, Lt. Governor," he said.
Mr Little has been a target for far-right lawmakers criticising his handling of the coronavirus. The governor issued a temporary stay-at-home order in March 2020 when the state's hospitals were overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.
The lockdown helped health care facilities get a handle on the influx of patients and bought them time to obtain necessary PPE to protect their staff.
Despite this, conservative lawmakers in the state attempted to pass a mask mandate ban, but failed in their efforts.
“I am always reluctant to engage in political ploys, especially when I have been steadfast in meeting the simultaneous goals of protecting both lives and livelihoods,” Mr Little said. “I do not like petty politics. I do 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.”