Gov. Brad Little’s decision Monday to move Idaho back to a stricter stage of COVID-19 protections provoked a mix of reactions from other political leaders, with one Democratic senator saying he hadn’t done enough while some Republicans criticized Little from the right, accusing him of overreach and promising to defy him.
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who for months has been publicly critical of Little’s response to coronavirus and argued for a less regulated approach, said she was “disappointed that the governor believes our state needs to impose more restrictions on our already struggling businesses and limit the choice of individuals regarding their gatherings.”
“Respecting individual liberty and property rights must remain the foundation of all policy decisions in our state,” McGeachin wrote on Facebook. “Instead of working with stakeholders to implement strategies to expand our treatment capacity, our state is moving towards more top-down control over our businesses and citizens. We should be supporting Main Street right now, not adopting the draconian tactics of liberal municipalities that have only proven to make matters worse.”
Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, who similarly has been criticizing Little’s response to COVID-19 as overly heavy-handed for months and this spring encouraged businesses to reopen early in defiance of Little’s stay-home order, told people to go about their lives as they see fit.
“Government has no authority to tell you how large of a gathering you can accommodate or be involved with,” he said. “Government has no authority to tell you how far to be away from someone. Government has no authority to tell you whether you can assemble peacefully or not. Government has no authority to tell a business what to do.”
On Tuesday the Idaho Freedom Foundation posted a video on YouTube featuring numerous lawmakers demanding an end to all state and local emergency orders and promising to defy any future orders, including McGeachin and local Reps. Christensen and Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, and local representatives-elect Karey Hanks of St. Anthony and Ron Nate of Rexburg.
“The fact that a pandemic may or may not be occurring changes nothing about the meaning or intent of the state Constitution and the preservation of our inalienable rights,” Hanks said.
For the video, McGeachin sat in a van with an American flag hanging from the side, holding a Bible in her left hand and a handgun in her right.
“We recognize that all of us are by nature free and equal and have certain inalienable rights, among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing happiness and safety,” McGeachin said as she slowly raised the handgun into camera view and rested it on top of the Bible.
Facing spikes in coronavirus cases and hospitals at capacity in some parts of the state, Little announced Monday he was moving Idaho back to Stage 3 of his Idaho Rebounds plan. The state has been in Stage 4 since June. The biggest changes include limiting indoor gatherings to 50 people or fewer, limiting outdoor gatherings to 25% of capacity, encouraging employers to let people work from home and letting bars and restaurants only serve customers seated at tables.
“VERY BAD mistake Governor Little!” Zollinger posted on Facebook. “I’ve been as respectful and patient as possible but I will not comply! ‘Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty!’”
Zollinger told the Boise TV station KIVI he thinks the decision should have been made locally, not at the state level, saying “while this might be good or needed in Boise it might not be good or needed in St. Anthony.” Zollinger said he doesn’t plan to follow the gathering size limits.
“I’ve been to events for youth with several hundred people and am not aware of a single case of person to person spread at these events,” Zollinger said. “Most were respecting mask and sanitization requests.”
Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, who is on Little’s Economic Rebound Advisory Committee, said he had mixed feelings about the decision. Nelson called it “a small step in the right direction.”
“The governor has tried the personal responsibility strategy, and it’s simply not working,” Nelson said. “The longer that we refuse to acknowledge that coronavirus is a serious threat and take meaningful action to keep Idahoans healthy, the more freedoms we lose.”
Nelson said the extent of the pandemic means Idahoans can’t safely send their children to school and hospitals are “overflowing with coronavirus patients.”
“We all miss going out to restaurants, seeing our families in person, and going to large social gatherings,” Nelson said. “No one enjoys isolation and social distancing, but the increasing danger of coronavirus will restrict our freedoms until public officials take the necessary steps to keep Idahoans safe.”