TWIN FALLS • Two Magic Valley Republican lawmakers beat right-wing primary challengers Tuesday night.
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, got about 70 percent of the vote in her race against challenger Reggy Sternes. And Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, beat challenger Mary Bello with 59 percent of the vote.
Rudy Cordova, the Democrat who filed to run against the Bell-Sternes winner as a write-in in the primary, got 40 write-in votes, according to the unofficial results, which puts him 10 short of what he needed for his name to appear on the Democratic line on the November ballot. Hartgen will face Democrat Catherine Talkington this November in a rematch of the 2014 election.
Bell is one of the Legislature’s longest-serving members, having been first elected in 1988, and co-chairs the powerful budget-setting Joint Finance Appropriations Committee along with Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who is facing her own primary challenge from the right from Glenn Rohrer. The results of that race weren’t available late Tuesday night.
“I have felt a little guilty about assuming I was anointed or something,” Bell said Tuesday after being informed of her win. “I’m really grateful the people were so kind to me.”
Bell said she almost didn’t run again but changed her mind because of the turnover on JFAC — 2016 was Keough’s first year as co-chairwoman — and to work on issues such as the Magic Valley’s water needs and funding for the College of Southern Idaho and for a mental health crisis center in Twin Falls. Many of the Magic Valley’s other House members, she said, have committee chairmanships or other leadership positions of their own, and likely wouldn’t move onto JFAC were she to leave.
“I just felt that, should I not be there, there wouldn’t be anybody from the Magic Valley (on) Appropriations,” she said.
Hartgen and Bell survived what was, when it comes to legislative races, a turbulent night in some parts of the state.
Seven incumbent Republican House members were trailing behind their primary challengers late Tuesday, including both representatives in neighboring District 23, which includes part of western Twin Falls County — Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, was losing by more than 2-to-1 to challenger Megan Blanksma, and Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, was a bit behind challenger Christy Zito.
Sternes, the owner of Sternes Realty and a Jerome High School graduate and 21-year U.S. Navy veteran, said he was motivated to run by Bell’s low score on the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Freedom Index and promised to vote in a more conservative way.
The conservative IFF scores bills based on criteria such as whether they raise spending or grow government, and ranks lawmakers on their votes. Bell got an F-minus on the IFF’s scale; most of the Magic Valley’s Republicans got similarly low scores. The handful of lawmakers who get high ratings are mostly more conservative Republicans from northern Idaho.
Hartgen, a former Times-News publisher, has been in the Legislature since 2010. Bello runs runs Saddle Up Kids, a business giving children horseback riding lessons, and had run as more conservative than Hartgen.
“I think the fact that I won reflects that people looked at the race and chose a common-sense conservative to continue to represent them,” Hartgen said.
District 24 includes the city of Twin Falls and some areas just outside of it, while District 25 covers all of Jerome County plus much of Twin Falls County outside of the City of Twin Falls.
As for the other District 24 seats, incumbents Sen. Lee Heider and Rep. Lance Clow, both R-Twin Falls, will face Democrats Deborah Silver and Dale Varney, respectively, in November. In 25, Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, will face Democrat Scott McClure, and Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, is running for re-election unopposed.