Brad Little should follow the Constitution; lieutenant governor is governor while he’s out of state

Brad Little should follow the Constitution; lieutenant governor is governor while he’s out of state

by
Wayne Hoffman
November 15, 2021
Wayne Hoffman
Author Image
November 15, 2021

It’s been well understood since statehood that our Constitution plainly says that when the governor is out of state, he no longer exercises the power of the office. That power moves to the lieutenant governor until the governor returns. The wording of the state Constitution has never been in doubt. Its clarity is such that one need not be a lawyer to know this is true. Until now. 

The Constitution reads: "In case of the … his absence from the state … the powers, duties and emoluments of the office for the residue of the term, or until the disability shall cease, shall devolve upon the lieutenant governor.”

But now, state elected officials and the legacy news media are twisting themselves and the plain wording of our constitution into a pretzel to justify the nullification of the Constitution by redefining the word “absence.” The point of this blatant attack on our Constitution is an attempt to deny Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin her constitutional authority. Twice this year when the governor was outside the state’s borders, McGeachin lawfully fulfilled the duties as acting governor.  

But Gov. Brad Little, armed with legal advice from the office of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, now contends, essentially, that the governor really isn’t absent from the state so long as he has Idaho on his mind, I suppose in a Ray Charles kind of way. Chief Deputy AG Brian Kane wrote an analysis that concludes, “Given the technologies available in this day and age, there is no impediment to the governor performing his duties remotely.” In other words, he’s never really absent so long as he’s got a good Wifi connection.

Yet the wording of the Constitution was clear enough in 1987 when the then-Lt. Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a bill to raise the state’s drinking age while the governor was out of state. No one at that time even gave a thought to the possibility that maybe the governor, Cecil Andrus, wasn’t really absent from the state while he was away on business. And no one in the media or anywhere for that matter argued that the existence of the telephone meant that the governor really was just a phone call away. 

The reality that an Idaho lieutenant governor becomes governor when the governor is out of state is not just an Idaho thing either. Arkansas had a similar constitutional provision. And, even in the modern era, lieutenant governors were exercising the full legal authority of that office while the governor was out of state, including in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was out of the state a lot to campaign for president. That’s right. Even Bill Clinton, the man who gave us “it depends on what your definition of the word is is” did not dare argue he retained the power of the governorship while he was outside of the state.  And, for Arkansas, it was a fact of life, up until 2015, when Arkansans ratified a constitutional amendment to ensure that when the governor is away from the state, he retained the authority granted the office. 

There’s a legitimate reason for Idaho voters to consider making that change, given that technology allows the governor to govern from virtually anywhere in the world. At the same time, a voter might not like the idea of a future governor governing the state of Idaho from his second home in Arizona, even if such an arrangement is temporary. 

But that’s a question for voters to decide. Not Brad Little. Not Lawrence Wasden or his deputies. Until then, the governor should simply follow the law, and if he can’t do that, maybe he shouldn’t travel out of state so much.

View Comments
  • Mark Arrowood says:

    You are incorrect. Article IV, Section 12 states GOVERNOR. In case of the failure to qualify,….. the impeachment, or conviction, absence from the state,….or until the disability shall cease, shall devolve upon the lieutenant governor.

    He is not absent from the state. He can fulfill all duties via communication that was not available at the time the constitution was written.

    • KJ says:

      Constitution is not living. It stands as it is. Perhaps little man should stay home and quit making carbon trials in the sky.

  • Bee says:

    This is a helluva predicament with either Brad LITTLE r or Do Nothing McGeachin. We need strong leaders that will serve Idahoans.

    Watch online Townhalls or attend one live for Ammon Bundy. The next Governor of the Great State of Idaho!

  • Al says:

    To quote a friend of yours, Wayne, and I'm typing this with the same smirky self-confident look that Giddings had during her ethical committee hearing, "Where did YOU go to law school?"

    This is not a straightforward legal issue. There are legitimate arguments to both sides. See, for example, the AG Opinion and its reference to how states are "split" in resolving this issue which has popped up in other states: https://www.boisestatepublicradio.org/politics-government/2021-10-07/ags-opinion-says-its-absurd-for-gov-little-to-give-up-power-if-he-leaves-idaho
    That opinion is well-considered, well-researched and well-written. It does us good to consider both sides.

    "Absence from the state" is the key. Do we infer the adjective "physical" in front of the noun "absence" as Wayne does? Or do we infer the adjective "effective" as other states have? Both have valid points - and other states have chosen both sides.

    Let's add to Wayne's story here, though. SHOULD McGeachin have done what she's done? Months ago, she issued an executive order that, by AG opinion, was an illegal creation of law. I mean, Wayne, we're supposed to follow the constitution, right? ALL of the constitution or just the part where McGeachin can seize power?

    Funny reference to Butch Otter's veto of a bill back in the 80's. Here's what our former Lt. Gover and Governor has said about McGeachin this past month:

    “The Lt. Governor’s failed attempt to deploy the Idaho National Guard to the southern border while Governor Little is out of state performing his duties as Governor reveals HER IGNORANCE OF THE PROCESS AND HER TRUE INTENTIONS - she seeks only to ADVANCE HER PERSONAL POLITICAL AGENDA, even if it means putting the safety of our Guardsmen on the line and burdening their families while they are deployed. This is not the way a Governor acts. I attended the funerals of many of our warfighters and saw the grief in their families’ faces. The Lt. Governor belittles and demeans their sacrifice by playing political games with the men and women of the Idaho National Guard and their families. IT IS SHAMEFUL AND UNACCEPTABLE.”

    Can we just stop the ridiculousness?

  • Bruce Hendricks says:

    We shouldn't waste time on urging Little to do the right thing. He is a not very bright but corrupt politician who is most certainly not a conservative. Pedro Gonzales is correct; the establishment GOP is the enemy of middle Americans. They do nothing to represent the wishes of the people who elect them. We need to focus on alternative candidates who advocate for legacy Americans and hold them accountable. Vote with your feet and pocketbook and stop supporting corporations who actively subvert your values. If possible, get your children out of government schools; they cannot be reformed. Think locally and act locally. Make sure your city councils have people who will resist the Covid tyranny and the Anarcho tyranny threatening to destroy our country. Stop putting your faith in institutions such as the police that will not support you when the government crack down continues. Stop supporting the military industrial complex by advocating that your children be used as cannon fodder in the latest attempt to spread "liberal democracy."

    The Idaho GOP, except for some sterling examples, is a disgrace at both the Federal and state level.

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