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Coronavirus restrictions spark mutiny against GOP governor

The Idaho State Capitol has become a reflection of the GOP’s infighting in the era of Trump and Covid.

“We’re so bipolar right now. We are one of the great strongholds of the ultra-conservatives and they seek to make it their kingdom, ”she said. “The moderates and a lot of people who had the money and the power are getting old and losing interest. They are not interested in supporting a party with radicals.

In Idaho, like in a handful of other states, the governor and lieutenant governor do not run on the same ticket – they are elected separately. Little comes from an ancient line of Idaho Republicans. McGeachin, on the other hand, flourished as the new Tea Party conservative and gained more influence with the rise of Trump-era conservative populism, which accelerated during the pandemic.

By at least two key metrics, Idaho has been a pandemic success story under Little: It has the sixth lowest unemployment rate in the country and ranks 41st for the Covid death rate. With the good economy and Republicans largely aware of lower taxes, gun rights and fewer regulations, McGeachin’s campaign instead focused on mask warrants, calls for the personal freedom and disparaging the federal government – even when she benefited from the coronavirus relief money.

At the start of the pandemic, McGeachin spoke at rallies protesting the governor’s brief stay-at-home order issued in the spring of 2020.

“The tension between the governor and the lieutenant governor is to be expected as they are of completely different political convictions,” said Dean Mortimer, Republican and former senator and state representative. “So we have a conservative lieutenant governor and an intermediate governor and there is going to be a difference of opinion.”

China Gum, who advised former GOP representative Raul Labrador on his 2018 campaign against Little, said the governor had opened up to a major challenge due to what many conservatives saw as a brutal approach to the campaign. pandemic. McGeachin, she said, is more of a heir to the brand of conservative politics practiced by the Tea Party, Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose laissez-faire approach to keeping Florida open contrasts with the Little policies in Idaho.

“A lot of people said he wasn’t enough DeSantis… DeSantis is much more symbolic of what Idaho Republicans want,” Gum said. “I don’t understand why Brad Little was more Californian in his approach, more closed on this issue.”

DeSantis was the first governor in the country to essentially ban local governments from implementing mask warrants, something McGeachin pointed out when she issued her short term tenure after Little left the state. The local curators loved it.

“Half the party or more is on the DeSantis train. We would love a DeSantis, ”said Boise County GOP Chairman Eric McGilp.

Rebecca Crea, Lewis County GOP chairwoman, said many party members felt Little was being too strict with the pandemic restrictions. She said Little was a RINO (Republican in name only) who won his post in 2018 thanks to clever ads and a crowded GOP primary that siphoned votes from the most conservative candidate, Labrador. Little beat Labrador in the primary by 37 to 33 percent.

“People are paying attention now,” she said. “You had people who weren’t paying attention [in 2018] and they vote for people just because they have a cowboy hat, and Little is a rancher… We want him to be more of a governor than he is. Janice has always been for people. She’s on the ground. She knows the people. And everyone loves it.

A Little adviser, who did not want to publicly influence the divisive primary, said the governor’s team believed he would win because McGeachin represents a vocal minority. But the primary revealed how politics evolve in the state.

“Everyone says, ‘Oh, it’s about economics, economics, economics.’ Sure. But it looks like the Republican Party is moving away from economic issues, because in a place like Idaho, it’s already so strong, ”the adviser said. “So where are you going next?” I mean, there have been critical discussions of racial theory here in Idaho, discussions of diversity programs in Idaho. Conversations are starting to change in this Republican primary. The litmus test is no longer: “Did you vote for a tax hike?” Are you Pro Life? Are you Pro Gun? ‘”

McGeachin isn’t Little’s only challenger on the right – his message is amplified by anti-government activist Ammon Bundy, a vigorous opponent of Little’s stay-at-home order and other Covid-related legislation.

Bundy gained traction after a standoff in 2016 with federal agents from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and strapped to an office chair last year during a protest against coronavirus restrictions at the State Capitol of Idaho. The police quickly took him out; he was denied access to the building for a year.

The State Republican Party disowned Bundy as being too extreme, saying in a statement “we do not support his antics or his chaotic political theater.”

In a state with a strong militia movement, McGeachin has his own ties to the radicals – and, indirectly, Bundy. In February 2019, she showed her support for a State Capitol rally organized by the Real III Percent of Idaho militia to protest the conviction of a Bundy associate.

McGeachin was pictured making a heart symbol with her hands as she was flanked by two militia members displaying an “OK” hand symbol some associate with the code for “white power”. She posted the photo on her Facebook page, but then removed it and posted a statement disavowing racism.

Over a month later, at another militia rally, McGeachin took an impromptu oath to members of the Real lll Percent of Idaho Militia, which is typically used to swear an oath to a member of the National Guard of the State. At the time, Governor Little was traveling out of state, leaving her in charge. McGeachin again took advantage of Little’s absence to issue the mask rule when he attended a meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Tennessee.

“The tension between some lawmakers and the governor has been around for some time,” said State Senator Mark Harris, Chairman of the Republican Caucus, who worries about a new division of the party as the primary races continue. .

“It seems like in the past if Republicans had a Republican governor, they came and supported him,” Harris said. “This year is different in that we had a Republican lieutenant governor who announced that she was going to run against the sitting Republican governor. And there is going to be a split in the party.

Dan Cravens, GOP chairman in Bingham County, eastern Idaho, pointed out that Idaho has had a recent history of far-right candidates, including Rex Rammell, who won about a quarter of the GOP governor’s primary vote in 2010 after touring the state with a giant inflatable dinosaur – designed to symbolize his intention to “take a bite out of the federal government.” He became politically active following a confrontation with state officials.

“There is more populism and more activism in the party than in the past few years,” Craven said. “We have a deep split in Idaho. This is our constant battle within the Republican Party between one faction and another.

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