Nearing the end of the legislative session

Rep. Stephen Hartgen has a conversation in 2017 at the Capitol building in Boise.

South-central Idaho may be rapidly growing — but retired Republican state legislator and former Times-News publisher Stephen Hartgen said he doesn’t see that growth having a significant impact on the region’s political character.

Hartgen, who stepped down from the Idaho House this year and is now working on a book about the history, present and future of the Magic Valley, said he has noticed some evolution in local values and politics in recent decades, such as growing acceptance of gay rights.

But looking ahead to the future, Hartgen said, he believes the area will retain the same conservative culture and influence that it has brought to the Idaho statehouse in past years.

“The inherent political structure of the valley is essentially fixed,” Hartgen said.

A 2015 settlement agreement between junior and senior water users to restore the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer means that water use, a major point of contention for years, will likely take a backseat to other political debates in the coming decades, Hartgen said.

“That coming together of an agreement has opened the door to the end of what I would call the water wars,” Hartgen said. “It basically secures the future of the valley as an agricultural productive region.”

Next up, Hartgen said, he expects to see discussion of transportation infrastructure — including the possibility of a new bridge over the Snake River Canyon — attract more attention in the Magic Valley.

“I think there’s going to be a huge ongoing debate over transportation,” Hartgen said. “The population growth and structure of growth puts pressure on existing systems.

“Most of the transportation goodies have fallen on the Treasure Valley in the past couple years,” Hartgen added, “and I think there are a lot of rural legislators who would like to see more.”

Last year brought the retirement of Hartgen and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, who chaired the House Commerce & Human Resources and Joint Finance-Appropriations Committees, respectively. But the Magic Valley gained a new chairmanship for the 2019 session: Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, will helm the House Education Committee.

“I would expect that the next generation of leadership would exercise every bit as much influence and clout as the current generation and the prior generation,” Hartgen said.

— Gretel Kauffman

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