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Posts published in “Hartgen”

Strength, with challenges

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To hear the naysayers and malcontents tell it, Idaho is on the road to destruction, badly led by a weak governor and a passive, do-nothing Legislature dominated by RINOs and Democrats. They say the state needs to “see the light” of more ideology and rightist leadership.

This is pure horsepucky. If Idaho is so poorly led, why have we had a 16 percent population growth in the decade, one of the best in the nation? Why is Idaho in the top group nationally in coming out of the CVOVID recession with better than a 10 percent state revenue growth?

Don’t all those new Idaho residents (up almost 260,000 from 2010 to 2020, US Census, 12/22) know how awful Idaho is, going to hell in a handbasket if you listen to the baying ideological GOP rightists or the shrunken Democratic Party.

The new session of the Idaho Legislature starts tomorrow and there will be plenty of issues, from taxes to executive power, school funding to Medicaid costs, infrastructure to prisons, COVID to food-stamp benefits.

That’s the nature of the body, to take ideas from many perspectives and guide the state year by year. That takes wisdom and yes, willingness to listen, which are often in short supply on both the far right and the far left.

But in the midst of the debates, we should look at two points in the big picture:

First, population growth. Idaho has had robust population growth going back 30 years or more. The state population is estimated in 2020 at 1.826 million, up 16 percent in a decade and almost doubled in 30 years. (US Census, Idaho) Put another way, almost one in two Idahoans today is new to the state over the past three decades.

This is happening while the nation’s population growth has been flattening; it has barely moved in the past decade. New Census estimates say the nation’s growth has been the slowest in more than a century. Some states, such as New York, Illinois and now California are losing population.

For Idaho, it’s hard to overestimate the impact of population growth and demographic change. Growth, particularly in our larger communities, drives virtually all of our public policy debates, from schools to highways. An expanding population brings issues to the fore, but they’re ones of positive management, not decline. How many cities and states do you know which would love to have Idaho’s numbers?

Second, we’ve come through the worst of the COVID pandemic with one of the best financial pictures of any state in the nation. Idaho state revenues year date (July through November) are up more than 16 percent, one of the best states nationally, $1.512b to $1.763b through five months. (DFM report, 11/2020). Better yet, our state debt-to-revenue ratio is also in the top group at less than 4 percent. (Rich States, Poor States, 2020 report.) We’re not incurring debt to fix past overspending, as some states are having to do.

Why is that? The answer is in the prudent, fiscally-responsible way Idaho budgets are set. I served on House Revenue & Taxation Committee while in the Legislature where a common question often was “how will this be paid for?” We’re neither “spend it all” advocates as in many liberal states, nor are we skinflints on the far-right, where some want to eliminate state pensions and school funding. Last month, Idaho was ranked third in the country in economic opportunity, just behind Utah and Wyoming (Rich States 2020 report).

Critics from the right or left rarely acknowledge these positive reports. Leftists want you to focus on so-called “social justice” issues like race and economic inequality. They want you to pour out more money from your pockets. They want to continue and expand handouts. Their allies in government, media and the Democratic Party are almost all of this spend-tax-spend persuasion. They rarely look at the cost side of proposals and the evident monetary concerns.

Critics on the right have other motives. They want the state to embrace a ruthless form of Darwinian survivalism by eliminating state-paid employee pensions and eliminating public school funding – all of it. They also oppose state Medicaid expansion, saying individuals should pay it themselves or let charities do it. They favor legalizing drugs and changing laws to let high-rollers manipulate currency trading. They opposed 2020 reforms which limited lawyer price gauging of indigents in court cases. They support transparency in public records, except when it comes to their own donors and out-of-state oligarchs.

Wisely, the Legislature has steered a path between these extremes and a growing economy has given us a brighter future than extremists on either side can see. We should look for legislative proposals which builds on the Idaho strengths.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of two new books on Southern Idaho, “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” and “Spirit of Place: Southern Idaho Values Across Generations.” He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.
 

Biden’s cabinet

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Not that it’s a surprise, but the Biden appointments include nods to identity politics from the Left, but also “Deep State” internationalists and at least two nominees with Blaine County ties to Ketchum/Sun Valley.

We’re mostly a get-away location for these folks and you’re not likely to find them as disguised incognitoes in the Costco or Walmart isles of Twin Falls or Pocatello. Their politics are decidedly liberal and they’ve been part of Biden’s circle for years.

One is former Massachusetts Senator John Kerry who with his wife Theresa Heinz Kerry, have a home in Ketchum, one of several mansion residences. Kerry was the Democratic nominee for President in 2004 and then Secretary of State in the Obama administration. He has recently been nominated by Joe Bidden to lead the administration’s efforts on climate change.

The columnist and former governor Mike Huckabee quipped that Biden picked Kerry because he mistook him for a tree. Humm. He does look sort of craggy. But both Kerry and his wife have long been active in environmental causes, so there’s logic in the appointment, which doesn’t need Senate confirmation.

The other appointment with Blaine County ties is Antony Blinken, who is Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State and the nephew of Wood River Valley resident Alan Blinken, who ran for the US Senate against Larry Craig in 2002. Craig won the contest. Alan Blinken hosted a fundraiser for Biden in the recent campaign.

Both Alan Blinken and Donald Blinken, the nominee’s father, served as American ambassadors in the Clinton administration, Donald in Hungary and Alan in Belgium. (Idaho Press, 11/23) The Blinken family has long ties to investment banking in New York and were part of Clinton’s fundraising circle. Reminds us of the supposed exchange between writers F. Scott FitzGerald and Ernest Hemingway, in which FitzGerald muses that the rich are different from you and me. To which Hemingway replies, “Yes, they have more money.”

Antony Blinken, the nominee for Secretary of State, has a long history of working with Biden as both a staffer and foreign policy advisor in the Obama administration. But he’s not only “son of diplomats” to rise in American foreign policy.

In the 1780s, John Quincey Adams, then a teenager, accompanied his father John Adams, on diplomatic missions in Europe on behalf the American Revolution. He e He took to diplomatic service so well that President George Washington appointed him as an ambassador while in his mid-twenties, and he later served as Secretary of State as well as our sixth president.

Following that, Adams served in Congress for twenty years where he was an outspoken opponent of slavery. He successfully argued the Amistad case before the US Supreme Court in 1841, which opened legal avenues for ending slavery. He’s considered of America’s best Secretaries of State.

Blinken’s experience and wide connections in Washington, DC are likely to secure him Senate approval as Biden’s Secretary of State, despite the contentious election and its aftermath. Presidents normally are given deference in Cabinet nominees, unless the individual has significant negatives.

But other Biden cabinet nominees are likely to face close scrutiny. One of Trump’s key campaign points in 2016 and 2020 is that an entrenched Washington bureaucracy dating from both the Clinton and Obama administrations has undermined American interests at home and abroad by placing foreign interests above our own.

The new Biden cabinet includes a number of such “Deep State” internationalists, as well as carefully-picked minority and identity politics nominees. That was probably inevitable with a Biden victory; after all, he served with little distinction in Washington for decades, relying on connections and long-term friendships. And at 78 he is unlikely to go much beyond his known circle from his Clinton and Obama years.

Biden’s business ties to foreign companies and governments through his son Hunter were successfully buried by much of the press; they are now coming to light, and they put the lie to Biden’s claim he had no such connections. (Fox, 12/11).

With son Hunter asking for a key for Joe to a shared office with a Chinese operative, it’s obvious that the Bidens saw foreign money-making as a lucrative side-business for the Biden family.

The Chinese, who are masters of intrigue and influence-peddling, are likely joyous at the election now that their puppy’s father, “Big Joe,” will soon be in the White House. (Fox, 12/12) Trump was right about the Bidens family being a “Godfather” enterprise, but the press took a walk to save their guy.

Meanwhile, the BLM’s favorite socialist, Kamala Harris, waits just offstage. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of two new books on Southern Idaho, “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” and “Spirit of Place: Southern Idaho Values Across Generations.” He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.

Luke’s timeless account

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We all know St. Luke’s compact and yet detailed account of the birth of Christ in a Bethlehem stable, how the baby was “wrapped in swaddling clothes” and then visited by wondering herdsmen from the nearby hills.

As dopey as it sounds in our calloused times, Luke tells how shepherds in the fields “tending their flocks by night” were visited by an angel who brought them “good tidings of Great Joy” for “all people” that “unto you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”

Angel? Chorus? Good Tidings? Yea sure, saith many. It’s a COVID Christmas. Where are the “good tidings?” Vaccines are coming, but we’re not yet able to relax precautions.

We are given more in this packed account from Luke 2, a template into how government’s unrelenting hand impacts us all, something we can all relate to in this time of mask mandates which Biden promises to expand.

Luke relates how a “decree went out from Caesar Augustus” that every person – man, woman, child – would go to the town of their origin to be taxed. And so that is what Joseph did, taking along his wife Mary, she being “great with child.” to be counted and taxed as well.

Those who think broad government edicts are a new idea should read this again; even in Roman times, government’s hand touched everyone. Mary was to be taxed along with Joseph. Now that’s true gender equality.

The Middle East in those times were under Rome’s military and civilian control, so what the governors decreed, that was what was done. Luke does not tell us explicitly here, but other sources (chiefly Josephus) relate how Rome’s governance was hardly a light and loving touch. Tax collectors and edicts were everywhere.

Yet Luke proudly proclaims the symbolic import of this baby’s coming into the world that dark night, a symbol of peace and love for all humanity.
Current COVID angst and political turmoil aside, isn’t that the essential meaning of Christmas? That the affairs of men are but specks of dust in a dark night through which Christ’s birth and life shine as a beacon, calling us all to “Goodness and Light” as the Christmas carol says?

Luke has been called the “great physician” by Biblical scholars and he’s often depicted as a medical doctor in Medieval art. But he was also a detailed reporter -- one of history’s early known journalists – whose account is widely regarded as the best and most accurate of Christ’s birth.

Yet, Luke makes it clear he is no fan of Roman order and authority. In today’s politics, he might be a Libertarian, disdainful of government agents and Pharisees. Christ, he says, (Luke 23) stands mute before Pilate, who turns him over to the baying crowd of persecutors. See, says one, Christ’s own enigmatic words condemn him.

It is a passage which foresees Paul in Galatians: (5:1) “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

Is that not another lesson from Luke’s story: live in the freedom which Christ has given us, in the spiritual sense, and “be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage?”

It’s tempting to draw lessons from Luke’s account for today’s confounding politics. Is Trump, as some think, the ‘Savior” brought to us to lead a rejuvenation of cultural values in American life? Or are House Congressional Democrats the real “saviors” of American life, standing up to a usurper and falsely-elected “king?”

What would Luke say? It’s tempting to think Luke would echo Christ’s own words, telling us to set aside petty things in these strident times and strive to live better together, separate and apart perhaps, but seeking common ground where we can.

Isn’t that what Christ means when he later says to Peter, “Feed my sheep?” It’s a reference back to the symbolic image we have of Christ’s birth in the manger with an angel telling those watchful shepherds, do not fear, God is with us, Emmanuel.

Merry Christmas, all.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com. An earlier version of this column appeared on December 22, 2019.

Not a bridge too far

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The Idaho Transportation Department’s recent presentation on a third bridge crossing over the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls is an important step in the valley’s economic future. But there are many steps ahead and the project’s anticipated costs are likely to grow as decisions are made, or delayed.

Nonetheless, the ITD rollout of potential crossing sites and traffic impacts and travel times will help solidify the discussion, which has been talked about for years. Now, there are some real options on the table.

Everyone knows traffic is increasing at the two existing crossings, at Twin Falls’ Pole Line Road and the Hansen bridge several miles to the East. Current traffic volume is over 44,000 vehicles per day and is anticipated to be over 61,000 in twenty years, 2040. Significantly, ITD projects up to a 3 percent annual increase, up from a 1-2 percent increase in previous estimates.

The four main options presented (excluding improvements to the existing Hansen bridge which are already being planned) all offer routes which would connect with Interstate 84 at or near Jerome.

Options one and two envision a crossing bridge as a jump-off from the Pole Line Rd. and Hwy. 93 intersection West of Twin Falls, connecting to one or two existing Interstate 84 tie-ins at Jerome. Both would extend Hwy. 93 and create a direct connection for Nevada traffic.

Options three and four would go from existing Twin Falls streets, which are already quickly filling with housing, churches, schools and commercial/office development at 2700 Road and 3500 Road. Options three and four are also the most expensive; one is at $390 million and the other at $405 million.

By comparison, options one and two, which follow 2400 Road, would each cost less than $250 million. Each would take existing farm land but so far, not as much housing and commercial development.

So we have a choice to make as a regional community. Options one and two would have less immediate impact but would contribute long-term to the Valley’s overall growth, which is spreading both East and West. Traffic from Twin Falls to Boise on Interstate 84 is often bottlenecked at both the I.B. Perrine Bridge and at the interchanges.

Options three and four would reduce in-town congestion at the Perrine Bridge, but would drop traffic into rapidly-developing neighborhoods in Twin Falls and the South end of Jerome city along Golf Course Road and South Lincoln Street. In less than a decade, these areas are quickly filling up.

Regardless of the route, there will need to be overall consensus from cities and counties, as well as highway districts. Failure to come to an agreement would likely delay or doom the project. That’s why ITD has wisely put the several options on the table for discussion.

And even if there’s agreement on the best route, there are significant issues ahead, not the least of which is funding and regional competition in Idaho for highway project dollars.

Have you driven through Boise to Nampa or Caldwell recently? The Treasure Valley is rapidly growing, as are the state’s other urban areas. Pocatello, for example, recently completed improvements on the Interstates interchange Northeast of town. Those region’s needs are also important, so there would need to be some prioritizations. That will come down to legislative debate, again likely to fragment by region.

Beyond that, the bridge project is likely too big for ITD’s current highway planning, so the state would need to supplement the normal appropriations. The dollar amount isn’t known, but the state “match” might be substantial but might be met in part from a growing revenue surplus. Then there’s the federal money. Projects of this scale usually involve Congressional support, and Idaho’s delegation is well positioned to “make the case” in Washington, DC.

These steps are off in the future. For now, the task is to gather Magic Valley comment and arrive at a consensus site. That in itself will mean give-and-take of all parties, which can happen for the good of the region, but which is by no means assured. Without that, it will be just another lofty idea and a bridge too f ar.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of two new books on Southern Idaho, “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” and “Spirit of Place: Southern Idaho Values Across Generations.” He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.
 

A lot to be thankful for? You bet

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(A variation of this column was first published in the Times-News on Sept. 30, 2019.)

Seems like every news account these days begins with “We all know how stressful a year this has been.” Yep, for sure. Coronavirus. Presidential election. Cooped up in the house. Can’t go to town or to a restaurant. Can’t see the grandkids, nor friends.

In some places, you’re not even supposed to go to church. How can expressions of faith not be “essential?”

And yet we have much to be thankful for, not the least of which is this bountiful sun-lit valley on a cold November morning, the fog settled in the canyons, ducks and geese circling. It is indeed a glorious Creation.

For the past seven years, since 2013, I’ve walked with the help of a cane, the result of a viral infection which has affected my balance and limited my mobility, but not my mind.

I don’t think of myself as disabled or impaired in any way. People who know me joke that I only use the cane to keep me from leaning too far to the political right. Yea, well maybe.

I’ve lived in Southern Idaho almost forty years now, and while not a perfect place, the Magic Valley has mostly been a delight. The physical landscape is immense and the people mostly kind, generous and hard-working. It reflects the way America generally was two generations ago before the country was overrun by near-constant discord of political correctness and identity politics.

Here, we’re still a valley of families, faith, farms, ranches, quiet towns and a shared base of conservative cultural values. How rare and special is that?
I have two new books out on the culture of Southern Idaho life, and am working on yet another. This valley doesn’t get written about very much, so I’m doing what I can to correct that.

But none of this is as important as family, place and remembrance, living here in this magnificent rural valley, a land of freedom, energy and progress. Linda and I have five children between us and a passel of grandkids as well, rambunctious, curious, verbal, loving, all out to make something of themselves in this world. There’s plenty to be thankful for just in that.

In my spare time, such as it is, I love to read American history. I particularly favor accounts of the American West, it’s rich legends and vigorous settlement, the courage and determination of its people in this vast and enduring landscape.
It is the Magic Valley story which is a major theme of my books, as well as the Idaho story and the American story of this great country. How can we not be thankful for that?

No one knows when we may be summoned to a distant trout stream, when one’s spirit returns unto God, who gave it. In any case, I have many blessings and almost no regrets. Looking back, I have been given much for which to be grateful:
A childhood of delightful memories in a safe and warm place on the edge of a deep, natural forest, a lens through which I have seen the world in most every circumstance;

Loving parents whose own efforts made the world a better place for those around them, a mother who helped others with sympathy and grace and a father who in his own art and teaching, opened people’s eyes to the world of beauty and human ennoblement;
An education at schools better than I had any right to attend and from which I was able to extract some, if not all, of what they had to offer, sometimes in counterpoint;

A life of the mind developed from an early age, nurtured by parents and then by myself in quiet hours and moments, overcoming each day’s hustings;

A long search in a career and then a settling in what seems “God’s country” of the West in the presence of daily beauty, the flow of crystalline water, the crisp green of spring farms and high summer range.

The blessing to live in the best region, of the best state, of the best nation on the planet, in freedom and opportunity, where love of country abounds. These traits are not incidental; they stem from our heritage, our community, faiths, family structure and community. All of these have been denigrated in modern life and we are the poorer for it.

A flowering of family warmth and love and a spouse whose dedication to the “us” of our marriage and to faith grows as we age.

A renewal in my sixties and now seventies of public service and involvement, through both public office and appreciation of my community to help our valley, state and nation be a better place for generations ahead.

Reasonably good health, despite setbacks and conditions. Yes, I have chronic ailments, but so do many others. So what? Scripture tells us to be constantly ready, as we cannot know the hour of the calling. That’s good advice.

But sometimes, we forget how thankful we should be for what we have been given. This is a good week to be thankful for all those blessings.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of two new books on Southern Idaho, “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” and “Spirit of Place: Southern Idaho Values Across Generations.” He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.