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It’s another messy chapter in Idaho’s 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary, the only one in the nation in which a sitting governor is being challenged by a lieutenant governor of his own party.

What’s happening here isn’t simply about an overly ambitious second-in-command. In a deeply conservative state that’s a proving ground for feuding factions in former President Donald Trump’s GOP, the primary revolves around a derivative of Trumpism — resistance to coronavirus-related mandates and restrictions.

“Our party is struggling with its identity. It’s going to come to an ugly head,” said Kay Lynn Smith, the GOP chair in rural Butte County.

“We are so bipolar right now. We are one of the big strongholds for the ultra-conservatives and they’re looking to make this their kingdom,” she said. “Moderates and a lot of the people who had the money and the power are aging out and losing interest. They’re not interested in supporting a party with radicals.”

In Idaho, as in a handful of other states, the governor and lieutenant governor don’t run on the same ticket — they are separately elected. Little hails from an older establishment line of Idaho Republicans. McGeachin, by contrast, flourished as a new tea party conservative and gained more influence with the rise of Trump-era conservative populism, which went into overdrive during the pandemic.

By at least two key metrics, Idaho was a pandemic success story under Little: It has the sixth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation and ranks 41st in Covid death rate. With the good economy and Republicans largely in lockstep about low taxes, gun rights and fewer regulations, McGeachin’s campaign has instead centered around mask mandates, appeals to personal freedom and bashing the federal government — even when she benefited from coronavirus relief money.

Early on in 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 because they are of completely different political persuasions,” said Dean Mortimer, a Republican and former state senator and representative. “So we got a conservative lieutenant governor and a middle-of-the-road governor and there is going to be a difference of opinion.”

China Gum, who advised former GOP Rep. Raul Labrador’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign against Little, said the governor opened himself to a primary challenge because of what many conservatives saw as a heavy-handed approach to the pandemic. McGeachin, she said, is more of an heir to the brand of conservative politics practiced by the tea party, Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose laissez-faire approach toward keeping Florida open contrasted with Little’s policies in Idaho.

“A lot of people were saying he’s not DeSantis enough … DeSantis is a lot more symbolic of what Idaho Republicans want,” Gum said. “I don’t understand why Brad Little has been more California in his approach, more shut-down on this issue.”

DeSantis was the first governor in the nation to essentially ban local governments from implementing mask mandates, which McGeachin highlighted when she issued her short-lived mandate once Little stepped out of state. Local conservatives loved it.

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

Rebecca Crea, the GOP chair in Lewis County, said there’s a feeling among many in the party that Little was too strict with pandemic restrictions. She said Little was a RINO (Republican in Name Only) who won his office in 2018 thanks to slick ads and a crowded GOP primary that siphoned votes from the more conservative candidate, Labrador. Little beat Labrador in the primary by 37-33 percent.

“People are paying attention now,” she said. “You had people not paying attention [in 2018] and they vote for people simply 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 been for the people all the time. She’s on the ground. She knows the people. And everyone loves her.”

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An adviser to Little, who did not want to publicly weigh in on the divisive primary, said the governor’s team believes he’ll win because McGeachin represents a vocal minority. But the primary revealed how politics are changing in the state.

“Everybody says, ‘oh, it’s about the economy, about the economy, about the economy.’ Sure. But it looks as if 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 do you go next? I mean, there’s been critical race theory discussions here in Idaho, discussions about diversity programs in Idaho. The conversations are starting to change in this Republican primary. The litmus test is no longer, ‘did you vote for a tax increase? Are you Pro Life? Are you Pro Gun?’”

McGeachin isn’t Little’s only challenger on the right — her 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 a following after a 2016 standoff with federal agents at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and last year zip-tied himself to an office chair during a protest of coronavirus restrictions at the Idaho state Capitol. Police promptly wheeled him out; he has been banned him from the building for a year.

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

In a state with a robust militia movement, McGeachin has her own ties to radicals — and, indirectly, Bundy. In February 2019, she signaled support for a state Capitol rally organized by the Real III Percent of Idaho militia group protesting the conviction of a Bundy associate.

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

More than a month later at another militia rally, McGeachin administered an impromptu oath of office to members of the Real lll Percent of Idaho Militia that’s usually used to swear in a member of the state’s National Guard. At the time, Gov. 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 traveled to a Republican Governors Association meeting in Tennessee.

“The tension between some legislators and the governor has been there for a while,” said state Sen. Mark Harris, the Republican caucus chair, who worries about further division in the party as the primary races continue.

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

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

“There’s a greater populism and a greater activism in the party than in the last few years,” Craven said. “We have a profound split in Idaho. It’s our constant battle within the Republican Party between one faction and another.”


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Garland pauses federal executions as DOJ reviews policies

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Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday paused federal executions as the Department of Justice reviews its death penalty policies and procedures.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guar anteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” Garland said in a statement. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”

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Legal battles over the traditional three-drug protocol for carrying out execution by legal injection, and a shortage of sodium thiopental — one of the drugs — led to a two-decade lapse in federal executions. But then-Attorney General Bill Barr ordered federal prisons to resume executions in 2019, after making changes to the federal execution protocols.


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New York Assembly OKs subpoenas in Cuomo impeachment probe

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Additionally, members have taken the technical step of issuing a commission to the law firm of Davis Polk, which the Assembly has retained to handle much of the probe. That step “allows our independent counsel to take testimony under oath,” Lavine said.

The Assembly launched its investigation of Cuomo in March. It is probing a litany of allegations made against Cuomo on subjects ranging from sexual harassment to the governor’s $5.1 million book deal.

State Attorney General Tish James is examining several similar issues. She started issuing subpoenas in March.

James said last week that she does not “share information” with the Assembly investigators. But Abinanti said on Wednesday that the granting of a commission to Davis Polk opens up that possibility, “because now they are authorized to subpoena the same information the attorney general’s office is subpoenaing … so I would assume the attorney general’s office would feel more comfortable cooperating with our counsel.”

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Wednesday’s meeting was notable as the Assembly’s first mostly in-person committee meeting since state government shut down in March 2020. Since Cuomo ended New York’s state of emergency last week, the Legislature is now fully subjected to the Open Meetings Law, and the public was allowed into the room in the state Capitol for five minutes. The remainder of the roughly two-hour gathering took place in executive session.

Does the issuing of subpoenas mean that the investigation of Cuomo is nearing an end?

“Oh no, not yet, no no,” Abinanti said. “Let’s face it, we’ve given [Davis Polk] a huge task. There’s a lot of issues for them to look at.”


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Opinion | Republicans Shouldn’t Sign on to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal

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The conventional wisdom is that the Senate has to prove that it can work, and the test of its functioning is how much of Biden’s spending Republicans endorse.

This is a distorted view of the Senate’s role, which shouldn’t be to get on board a historic spending spree for which Biden won no mandate and which isn’t justified by conditions in the country (it’s not true, for instance, that the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling).

Besides, if bipartisan spending is the test, the Senate just a few weeks ago passed a $200 billion China competition bill by a 68-32 vote. It used to be that $200 billion constituted a lot of money, but now it doesn’t rate, not when there’s $6 trillion on the table.

The infrastructure deal lurched from gloriously alive to dead when Biden explicitly linked its passage to the simultaneous passage of a reconciliation bill with the rest of the Democratic Party’s spending priorities in it.

Then, it revived again when Biden walked this back, and promised a dual track for the two bills.

The fierce Republican insistence on these two tracks doesn’t make much sense and amounts to asking Democrats to allow a decent interval before going ahead with the rest of their spending—Democrats are going to try to pass a reconciliation whether the bipartisan deal passes or not.

At the end of the day, then, there’s only one track: Democrats are going to spend as much money as they possibly can. The bipartisan deal might shave some money off the hard infrastructure priorities (according to Playbook, the White House says it doesn’t want to double dip, on say, electric cars or broadband by getting some money for them in the deal and then getting yet more in the reconciliation bill). But the emphasis is going to blow out spending across the board.

The calculation of Republicans supporting the bill is that a significant bipartisan package can take some of the heat off of Sen. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema in their resistance to the filibuster.

A deal that passes and is signed into law will certainly be a feather in their caps, but it’s hard to believe they’d change their minds on the filibuster if the deal fell apart.

They are both so extensively and adamantly on the record in favor of the filibuster that a climb-down would be politically embarrassing and perilous. They may be sincere in believing that the filibuster is important institutionally to the Senate. But the politics also work by allowing them to brand themselves as a different breed of Democrat.

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If they flip-flip on the filibuster, they release the brake on the left-most parts of the Democratic agenda and find themselves taking a lot of tough votes on priorities dear to the Democratic base.

Republicans supporting the deal also think that it will make passing the subsequent reconciliation bill harder. First, the parts of infrastructure that have the widest support—roads and bridges—will be in the deal and not in the reconciliation bill. Second, the unwelcome tax increases excluded from the bipartisan deal will be in the reconciliation bill.

This isn’t a crazy calculation, although it’s not clearly correct, either. The higher the top-line number is for the reconciliation bill, the harder it is to pass. By allowing Democrats to cleave off some of their spending into a bipartisan deal, the overall number for the reconciliation bill gets smaller. In other words, the bipartisan deal could make the partisan reconciliation easier rather than harder to pass.

If this is true, the deal is bipartisanship in the service of a partisan end.

It not as though Biden is fiscally prudent on all other fronts, except in this one area which he considers a particularly important national investment with unmistakable returns. No, he’s universally profligate. His reckless spending on all fronts (except defense) makes it more imperative for Republicans to stake out a position in four-square opposition.

It’s not as though the bipartisan bill is exemplary legislation, by the way. It resorts to all the usual Beltway gimmicks to create the pretense that it’s paid for, when it’s basically as irresponsible as the rest of the Biden spending.

Bipartisanship has its uses, but so does partisanship. Joe Biden wants to be known for his FDR- and LBJ-like government spending, believing that it’s the key to political success and to an enduring legacy. Fine. Let him and his party own it.


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