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Idaho's Republican governor blasts his own party's efforts to end his Covid-19 emergency declaration

Posted January 22, 2021 4:42 p.m. EST

— Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued sharp criticism of the state Legislature's efforts to repeal a Covid-19 emergency declaration in a video statement released Friday.

"I believe in my heart that what the Idaho Legislature is doing is harmful to our people and wrong for Idaho," Little said, adding, "I urge my partners in the Legislature to stop the political gains and do what is right for the people of Idaho."

The state's Senate Committee on State Affairs voted out a resolution on Tuesday to end Idaho's emergency declaration, according to the Legislature's website. Idaho's House and Senate are both controlled by Republicans.

Idaho is among several states weathering political clashes between their governors and legislatures over their coronavirus responses. Idaho has seen 158,200 cases and 1,654 deaths from the virus, about 8,853 cases per 100,000 people -- the 15th highest rate in the country, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Little called the declaration "critical" to the state's ability to receive federal assistance, adding that it "has enabled us to quickly cut red tape and increase health care access."

Maj. Gen. Michael J. Garshak, the commanding general of the Idaho National Guard, echoed the governor's sentiments.

"In my opinion, it would be negligent to cancel the emergency declaration at this pivotal moment, denying the citizens of Idaho the necessary support to ensure their health, safety and welfare," Garshak said.

"It is not the time to stand down -- (by) canceling Idaho's emergency declaration, we do just that," he added.

The legislation, which will next be considered by the Idaho Senate, says that "nothing in this concurrent resolution shall prevent the State of Idaho from receiving any federal funds, benefits, or resources arising out of the state of disaster emergency relating to the outbreak of novel coronavirus or COVID-19." It is not clear from the text of the bill how that would be the case.

Little, in his statement, accused legislators of perpetuating myths and falsehoods in their "irresponsible attempts to undo Idaho's emergency declaration."

"Abandon the myth that the emergency declaration somehow shuts down Idaho. Abandon the myth that the emergency declaration somehow infringes on your rights," Little said.

The governor urged people to contact the legislators of his own party and "tell them not to take away one of our strongest tools to end this pandemic."

"Tell them Idahoans' lives and livelihoods depend on it," Little said.

Tensions have been rising in the state since October, when Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin -- who has repeatedly clashed with Little over his response to the pandemic -- and 10 Republican state legislators or legislators-to-be appeared in a video in which they seemed to openly question the existence of the coronavirus pandemic. They also insisted they would follow no state or local emergency orders relating to the fight against Covid-19.

"The fact that a pandemic may or may not be occurring changes nothing about the meaning or intent of the state's constitution and the preservation of our inalienable rights," says Karey Hanks, who was running unopposed for a state House seat, in the video.

Intra-state clashes over such declarations have put a spotlight on state governments balancing public health efforts to mitigate the pandemic with popular efforts demanding to reopen the economy -- a reflection of inconsistent directives from the prior administration in the federal government's response.

Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extended the state's coronavirus emergency declaration by executive order in April after the Republican-controlled Legislature advanced a bill that would not have renewed the original declaration. But in October, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Whitmer had no authority to issue or renew executive orders relating to Covid-19 beyond April 30.

In Wisconsin, Republicans who control the Legislature and state Supreme Court have previously forced Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to the sidelines. The state high court's decision in May -- at the Legislature's request -- to block Evers' stay-at-home order was the latest in a series of moves to stop the governor from exercising power in the spring.

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