TWIN FALLS — A Twin Falls lawmaker, the president of a far-right think tank and the governor’s wife exchanged sharp words on a Facebook post over the weekend.
A public post by Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, in which he criticized the Idaho Freedom Foundation and accused the group of supporting “druggie candidates,” ignited heated discussion in the comments section.
The post also prompted a video response from candidate Rocky Ferrenburg, who is running for Hartgen’s District 24 House seat against Hartgen’s wife, Linda Wright Hartgen, and has openly discussed his prior drug convictions throughout his campaign.
In his original post Friday, Hartgen noted that Idaho had jumped to No. 2 in the country for future economic outlook in a survey by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
“Makes you wonder, with performance like this, why some on the right like the secretive so called Freedom Foundation want to add right-wing laws to the state, such as drug legalization and dismanteling (sic) the states well regarded pension plan,” Hartgen wrote.
“Alt-right IFF Breitbart candidates are preaching a drain the swamp platform for Boise, but really, its just an effort to gain power and push Idaho into the fringe-right camp,” he continued.
The post attracted comments from accounts linked to Wayne Hoffman, president of the IFF, Jay S. Waters III, a candidate for the Senate seat in District 24, and Lori Otter, wife of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.
“[T]he only reason Idaho jumped to No. 2 is that the governor and the Legislature finally listened to our advice to dramatically cut taxes,” the Hoffman account wrote in response to the post. “You’re welcome. Damn good thing Idaho Freedom Foundation is around to make it happen.”
A Facebook account for Idaho’s first lady replied to the comment from the Hoffman account, writing: “Oh brother Wayne.”
“[A]ren’t you a non profit that is not allowed to lobby policy?” Otter wrote, adding: “trust me Wayne—there are a lot people looking into your nonprofit designation.”
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In response to Hoffman’s comment, Hartgen asked Hoffman when the IFF would “tell folks who your secret financial backers are.” He went on to ask Hoffman why the Foundation supports “druggie candidates.”
Ferrenburg, a self-described former drug addict who has since earned several college degrees, has publicly talked about his experience in the criminal justice system. He responded to the comment Monday afternoon in a video posted to his campaign page on Facebook.
“I don’t know why we have to resort to that type of behavior,” Ferrenburg said in the video. “I have an extensive track record that shows that’s not the same person I am today.”
In an interview with the Times-News, Ferrenburg called the comment a “total downplaying of the struggle of any person who’s ever had to overcome drug addiction.”
“One of the problems we have with the criminal justice system is we have these types of people in office who view drug addicts this way,” Ferrenburg said. “It’s okay for these people to flip your hamburgers...but once they actually integrate back into the community and they try to enter politics in this way and make a difference, all of a sudden they’re druggies again.”
Hartgen declined to comment when reached by the Times-News, but Wright Hartgen noted in an email that her husband had not specifically mentioned Ferrenburg in the Facebook thread.
“I respect anyone who works on their issues and give them the credit that is due,” Wright Hartgen, who previously served as trial court administrator for the 5th Judicial District, said in the email. “I worked too long in creating programs to help people with issues to say any different.”
This isn’t the first time Hartgen has taken to Facebook to criticize the Idaho Freedom Foundation. In a separate post on Apr. 21, Hartgen referred to the group as the “Idaho Slavery Foundation,” writing that the Freedom Foundation “would put Idaho under the thumb of out of state, shadowy groups who want to legalize drugs and slash and burn down state government entites (sic).”
Ferrenburg pointed out in an email to the Times-News that he had not been formally endorsed by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.