Stephen Hartgen, former editor, publisher, legislator, columnist and bona fide force of nature, passed away just hours short of the New Year. He was churning out opinion columns right to the very end of his remarkable career. He took his leave when the ink was barely dry on his latest piece, which expressed support for Governor Little’s budget. Even though I sometimes disagreed with the way he looked at issues, I had a great deal of respect for Steve and considered him a friend. He will be missed.
Steve and I got acquainted in 1983, when I was Attorney General and he was Editor of the Times-News. We found ourselves on the same side of one of the most important issues in the history of Idaho–the Swan Falls water rights fight between the State and Idaho Power Company. Steve understood the implications of the dispute for the future of Idaho and he supplied editorial support for the State’s position.
When Bruce Newcomb and I launched an effort in 1984 to defeat legislators who sided with Idaho Power, Steve was there to help with his pithy editorials. An editorial on May 22, 1984, criticized a power company ad campaign designed to help its candidates, saying the campaign “smells so bad” that it is “backfiring on Idaho Power.” Several legislators who opposed the State’s position were defeated, which helped to bring about a favorable resolution of the dispute. Steve’s editorials helped a bunch.
As I mentioned, there were issues that Steve and I disagreed about over the years, but we always treated each other with respect. I last saw him in Twin Falls in September and we had an enjoyable conversation.
Another important matter we agreed upon, was our shared concern about the malign control that the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) has gained over a significant number of Idaho legislators. In a May 24, 2020 column he spoke about legislators who were afraid to “buck the Idaho Freedom Foundation” on a particular vote. He opined that the IFF and other groups funded by out-of-state money wanted to “defund public education” and “promote hare-brained anti-medicine ‘cures.’” He has called the IFF the “Idaho Slavery Foundation” as it “would put Idaho under the thumb of out of state, shadowy groups who want to…slash and burn down state government entities.”
Indeed, the IFF appears to own and operate quite a number of legislators, as shown on the organization’s “Freedom Index.” That has caused a group of concerned citizens to form for the purpose of defeating disruptive IFF legislators and replacing them with ones, in Steve’s words, who “see government as an entity to tackle real problems and find real solutions.” The Take Back Idaho (TBI) Committee aims to amplify Steve’s words and bring back the kind of governing that Idaho has been used to since statehood–reasonable, pragmatic and dedicated to serving the best interests of the people.
Steve can’t be here for this important venture but TBI plans to work with responsible incumbents and other candidates who fit the criteria Steve laid out–to responsibly deal with real, not imagined, problems. TBI will support good people like Representative Linda Hartgen, who has done a fine job in the Idaho House and now seeks a seat in the Senate.
As a member of the Supreme Court, I had the privilege of working with Linda Hartgen when she was Trial Court Administrator of the Fifth Judicial District. I convey my sincere condolences for the loss of her husband, a person who was dedicated to her, and to this great State–a fellow columnist who was truly a force of nature.