I announced my retirement from the Legislature this past week. I’ll serve out the remainder of the year, but not beyond 2018. Instead, I’m endorsing my wife, Linda, who has a broad background in public service in the Magic Valley. She’ll be an excellent legislator and I urge my many supporters to give her the votes they have generously given me.

It’s a change of direction for me, but in some ways, not so much. I intend to continue in public service in ways not yet defined. Beyond that, I’m working on a book about the history of the Magic Valley over the past 25 years, how we’ve grown and still continue to maintain much of our conservative values and traditions.

So, this column gives me a chance to reflect on my work in public service and what changes I’ve noticed. The biggest change, evident in all things great and small, is the phenomenal growth all around us — in economics, population, schools, etc. You can hardly cite a single entity which is smaller today than it was 15 years ago, except perhaps mainline churches and the newspaper industry, each of which has its own long list of continuing issues.

Yet, despite the growth, the Magic Valley has remained remarkably stable in many ways including social patterns, school dynamics and cultural values. Someone who left here in the mid 1980s and now returns as Rip Van Winkle for the first time in three decades, would be stunned by the growth. But this returnee would also notice the broad continuity of values across the valley from Glenns Ferry to Raft River.

In my view, there are several reasons for this. One is the fiscally responsible, prudent and cautious approach in our laws and public policies, mostly as they come through state laws. From two directions — the federal government on the one side and local city councils on the other — pressures abound for communities to be more “liberal” or “progressive.” Not everyone thinks these trends are wholly positive. As government has evolved in this time, it has fallen to the conservative state government of Idaho to often be the limiting entity on these trends, providing measured and reasoned analysis, prudent change, but within the context of existing laws.

That’s why in district after district, voters return conservative yet common-sense Republicans to office. Voters seem to say “yes” on being open to new ideas and new trends without getting carried away. Look ahead, but respect where we’ve come from. Political positions which stray too far from this aren’t likely to get much traction either from the lefties of the minority party nor from the alt-right, dismantling, tear-down libertarians. People instinctively shy away from these shrill squawkings.

That’s why, despite the changing times, the Magic Valley seems so rooted in traditional ways of life and values. Across the Magic Valley, from agriculture, to family structures to patterns of faith, much remains as it was in southern Idaho 30 years ago.

I see this mix of the old and the new as mostly a good thing. I have lived in and visited many places in America in my life. I think the generally homogenous and commonly-shared values of life in southern Idaho are mostly positive. I often read commentaries which challenge that statement, but I’ll stick by it nonetheless. Homogenous traits in communities may be seen by outsiders as negative forces which inhibits tolerance and diversity, but the shared value of common life experience has significant plusses, particularly in a world often cast off from traditional moorings. Seeing things this way doesn’t make me a stick in the mud though I’ve been called that and worse. One of the least positive features of our time is that social policy rhetoric is much sharper than it was a generation ago. The press has played an enormous role in this, much more than it acknowledges.

Not everyone will agree with this but as I end a decade in the Idaho House, my overall impression is that the legislative process works pretty well in Boise. Hundreds of bills are introduced and even more are discussed. It takes quite an effort to pass bills, particularly controversial ones. Solid questioning by legislators is key to the process. Citizens can be proud of their representatives in this regard. We do, indeed, ask good questions.

Idaho is fortunate that by politics and by governance, it’s not easy to stampede a deliberative body. We are more Adamsonian than Jeffersonian in that regard, reflecting Adams’ overall caution about runaway measures and half-baked editing of bills on the fly.

Sometimes the best thing a law-writing committee can do is to say, “slow down and reevaluate with more judgment and perspective.” In doing so, citizens are usually the better for caution, prudence and careful consideration of all matters. That’s a traditional Republican principle I hope to continue in my next phase of public service.

Stephen Hartgen of Twin Falls represents District 24 in the Idaho House of Representatives.


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