The Idaho House races in Twin Falls are both rematches from the last election cycle. Republican incumbent Steve Hartgen faces Democrat challenger Catherine Talkington, and Republican incumbent Lance Clow faces Democrat challenger Dale Varney.
One race was an easy pick for us, the other much more difficult.
The easy race first: Clow is far better prepared and possesses a much deeper understanding of a broad range of issues in the Legislature. Varney is focused on only two main points, expanding union rights and legalizing medical marijuana.
We believe neither of Varney’s issues is top of mind for Twin Falls voters. Instead, voters are more focused on the pillars of Clow’s education platform, which include expanding pay increases for teachers with advance degrees, funding early intervention literacy programs and considering a way for Idaho to adopt full-day kindergarten.
Clow also wants to simplify the state’s tax structure and put more money in the hands of small-business owners. He wants to close the Medicaid gap not with a bandage program with but something comprehensive that will focus on preventative care — not just reimbursements when people get sick.
Some lawmakers lose our respect the longer they’re in office. That’s not the case with Clow, who has proven he puts in the homework on every issue, works for solutions and isn’t a yes man for party leaders. He deserves another term.
Above all, he carries himself as a wise and respected political leader. He listens first and respects a civil debate on issues, something we seem to be losing as our politics become more personal and hostile.
We wish Hartgen would have followed Clow’s lead this campaign. No doubt Hartgen, too, has been an effective lawmaker. He has respect in his caucus, and like Clow he knows the details of just about every issue before the Legislature.
But his campaign this election cycle has not exhibited the statesmanship we expect from Magic Valley legislators. His opponent, Talkington, has been knocking on voters’ doors for months, listening to what issues they find important to help shape her platform. That’s how politics is supposed to work.
By contrast, Hartgen has spent much of his time attacking Talking on social media, seeking desperately to paint her as a big-spending liberal. Based on interviews with the candidates, stories about their campaigns and their debate performances, we’re simply not buying Hartgen’s rhetoric.
Despite his claims, Talkington does not want to raise taxes across the board. Instead, she proposes periodically re-examining tax exemptions for special interest groups. That’s a wise plan that could boost state revenue and close special perks for interest groups who’ve wiggled their way out of paying their fair share.
“I don’t assume that because we’ve done something for 20 years means we should be doing it again,” she said.
If anything, Hartgen is the ideologue in this race, not Talkington. He drew boos at a political forum when he said he supports Trump because the nominee represents a return to conservative values; even top GOP leaders stopped making that argument months ago when it became clear Trump had no interest in upholding traditional conservatism. What little Hartgen has told voters about how he’d govern during the next term has been the same old recycled Republican talking points we’ve been hearing for years: free enterprise, develop energy resources, lower taxes.
Instead of telling voters the specifics of what he would do if elected, Hartgen has been more interested in scaring voters with exaggerated claims about what would befall them were Talkington to win.
Take, for example, his claims that Talkington “supports invasion of farms by eco-terrorists.” In fact, she opposed the so called ag-gag bill that was supported by Hartgen and the GOP but was later struck down by a judge and ruled unconstitutional. The reality is Talkington doesn’t support “eco-terrorists.” She opposes lobby-driven unconstitutional legislation that ends up unnecessarily costing the state money.
She also points out, correctly, that the Legislature has wasted millions of dollars in brainless lawsuits and fines, especially in the scandals over the school broadband network and prison contracts.
We endorsed Hartgen in his last race with Talkington because we found her unprepared for the Legislature. That’s not the case this time around. Even after her loss two years ago, her campaign never really stopped. She’s used that time to meet with voters, study the issues and build a closer connection with voters based on the issues and solutions important to them.
In meetings with our editorial board this time, she articulated clear and smart solutions to Idaho’s biggest issues, especially education, which she says is on the minds of most voters this campaign.
Even though Talkington is a Democrat, she supports the recommendations of Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s task force on education. But she wants to see them accelerated by spending money from the state’s rainy-day fund. With Idaho ranking near the bottom among state spending on public education, it’s essentially raining and time to tap those funds, she says.
On taxes, Hartgen wants tax cuts in nearly every sector. But ask yourself this: Would you rather save a few bucks at tax time or see that money spent on what the state us supposed to be doing, like improving education and fixing roads?
On health care, Talkington supports a waiver from the federal Medicaid program that would allow the state to help find care for 78,000 Idahoans now without insurance. But she wants those people to help pay their own way with co-pays.
Hartgen’s latest proposal wouldn’t entirely close the gap, still leaving perhaps thousands without insurance. He also proposes an “asset test” where the uninsured wouldn’t be eligible for as much help if they owned cars or phones or other everyday items of value. We find that proposal impractical (how do you even begin to assess value on domestic goods?); others may say heartless.
Talkington also says voters are wary about the state’s role in managing federal lands and are suspicious Republicans may sell off public lands in the future. She’d like federal lands to stay in federal hands but put pressure on the U.S. Congress to better manage the resources.
This race isn’t about who is voting for president or even party politics. It’s about who will best represent the Twin Falls. Talkington hopes voters pay less attention to the D’s and R’s on their ballots and more on what the candidates are saying about the issues. If they do that, she may just have a chance to do something no Twin Falls woman has done in generations: win a seat to the Idaho House of Representatives.