What was Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin trying to hide?
McGeachin formed an ad-hoc witch-hunting society referred to as the education indoctrination task force earlier this year, claiming it would root out the teaching of critical race theory and socialism throughout Idaho. It found nothing, but it solicited comments from the public, trying to find instances of it happening.
Reporters wanted to read those comments, which are public records. McGeachin shunned transparency, and the Idaho Press Club sued.
Seeking to defend McGeachin’s outlandish behavior, the outside counsel McGeachin hired to represent her — a lawyer for whose services she is currently trying to bill taxpayers — made arguments so contrived and ludicrous that the judge warned him that he may have made sanctionably frivolous representations to the court.
McGeachin lost. And she didn’t just lose the lawsuit; she was treated to a tongue-lashing by the judge, who found her actions to be in bad faith and imposed a civil fine on her.
“Based primarily on the plainly inapplicable, baseless exemptions proffered by (McGeachin) in refusing disclosure, it appears to the Court that (she) would stop at nothing, no matter how misguided, to shield public records from the public,” the judge wrote.
Having been ordered by the court to release the records, you’d assume she’d do it. You’d be wrong. That wouldn’t happen until more than a month later, after McGeachin’s office again denied access to the public records, this time claiming that they were the subject of ongoing litigation.
When the Idaho Press Club finally brought a motion for the court to hold our lieutenant governor in contempt, to jail or fine her until she complied with the law, she finally released the records.
Why go through all that trouble? Why risk being hauled to jail in handcuffs? Why not simply release public records, as government entities throughout Idaho do every day? What was McGeachin trying to cover up?
Now that we have the records, I think we also have the answer.
It seems McGeachin wasn’t bravely fighting to protect the identities of people who had submitted comments to her committee from an invasive press. Rather, she was afraid the committee would be exposed for the fraud that it was — so afraid that she did everything she could, short of sitting in a jail cell, to keep it hidden.
She didn’t want people to read that she was a “wannabe McCarthy,” as one concerned citizen wrote. It wouldn’t help McGeachin’s cause for the public to read an elected official writing, “Please mind your own business and let local officials do their jobs,” or an exasperated middle school parent who chimed in with, “There isn’t any indoctrination. What are you even talking about?”
She didn’t want people to know that for every comment in support of the committee’s work, there were about eight telling them to go pound sand, according to a count by the Idaho Capital Sun.
It certainly wouldn’t aid the committee’s witch hunt to read the serious critiques of the curriculum found in the comments, such as this one from a high school student: “As a student currently enrolled in the public education system, I strongly oppose Lt. Gov. McGeachin’s Education Task and the actions it is taking. Idaho’s current curriculums are already lacking, partially due to us being the lowest in per pupil education funding in the whole nation. In history classes, lessons about racial history of non white people is incredibly skimmed over. We need to be learning more. If teaching true history is ‘indoctrination,’ maybe you’re the ones supporting the wrong side of history.”
I hope that kid runs for office someday. They appear to have a stronger grasp on the problems in Idaho’s school system, and a much leveler head, than McGeachin and her task force.
Bryan Clark is an opinion writer for the Idaho Statesman. He can be reached at 208-377-6207. Follow him on Twitter at @prBClark.