“Well, this is another fine mess that you’ve gotten me into.” - Oliver Hardy to Stan Laurel
That classic line from old Laurel and Hardy films could well have been Gov. Brad Little talking to Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin about the controversial photo with a pair of “Three Percenters” dressed in orange prison garb.
Time will tell where the governor’s working relationship with McGeachin will go from here, but here’s the extended weather forecast for the next three-plus years: Frosty.
“All of us must be accountable for our actions and their implications,” Little said after meeting with McGeachin.
That’s hardly a ringing defense of the lieutenant governor – to the disappointment of some conservatives. As it turned out, McGeachin and the two men were showing support for Todd Engel, an Idahoan who was caught up in the Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada four years ago.
As John Livingston of the Idaho Freedom Foundation writes, “He did indeed brandish a firearm in front of federal agents and deserved to be convicted and sentenced for that crime – nobody is disputing that fact. His 14-year sentence is disproportionate to those handed to the Bundy family members, who were the primary defendants in this case and are already out of prison.”
So, that was who McGeachin was “showing love” toward in the photo. But the chain of events created quite a stir at the Capitol on a recent Friday, which typically are short days for legislators leaving for home and slow news days.
The media collectively has taken a whipping from critics suggesting that liberal-minded reporters were making a big deal of nothing. It was all “fake news,” according to the critics.
But to the reporters covering the Legislature, there was nothing “fake” about what was happening before their eyes. I couldn’t imagine myself handling the story any differently if I were covering the Statehouse.
Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, who once made his living covering the Legislature, has slammed the “liberal-biased” media for its coverage. But I question if he would have done differently with the story if he were covering for the Idaho Statesman, as he did years ago. Wayne was a darn good reporter back in the day, and I wouldn’t think that he would let a juicy political blowup such as this slide. If he did, editors at the Statesman would be breathing down his neck wondering why in the heck everybody else, except him, were turning in stories.
Yes, it was news that a questionable photo of the lieutenant governor was taken, posted on Facebook and deleted. It was news that there was sharp reaction and that McGeachin was barricaded behind a locked door to her office. For a while, there were concerns about the men in the photo giving hand signals that promoted white supremacy. But reporting overall debunked that angle.
However, there was political damage to clean up. Generally, not much good happens when a lieutenant governor makes front page news or becomes the lead story in TV newscasts – and this episode was no exception. That’s unfortunate, because McGeachin is a likeable person. Not long ago, she was telling me how much she enjoyed her position and being Idaho’s first woman lieutenant governor. She was excited about serving an an ambassador for the Gem State and doing all she could to help Little be a success as governor.
But not all is lost for McGeachin. She received strong words of encouragement and a standing ovation at Kootenai County’s Lincoln Day dinner, and some of her conservative backers – who helped put her in office in the first place – are singing her praises louder than ever.
McGeachin was every bit of a team player during her days with the Idaho House of Representatives, and I don’t see her going any other way now. But a lieutenant governor’s career does not necessarily hinge on having a warm relationship with the governor. A lieutenant governor is free to take independent stands, or use his/her time to prepare a campaign for the top office. The only real requirements for a lieutenant governor in Idaho are to preside over the Senate, break tie votes and serve as “acting” governor when the boss is out of town. Anything beyond that is up to the two parties.
It will be interesting to see how Little’s working relationship with McGeachin evolves.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org