Newbie pols: Stephen Hartgen


In 2005, Stephen Hartgen left the publisher’s chair at the Twin Falls Times-News. He got out just in time.

As Hartgen tells it, he left the newspaper holding stock valued at $44 per share, and promptly cashed out. Lee Enterprise stock is plummeting well below $1 this month, hovering just above the quarter range.

Perhaps Hartgen will bring his investment intuition to bear on the state, as he slips into a new chair on Jan. 12 when the Idaho Legislature convenes: Hartgen was elected to represent part of Twin Falls and Owyhee counties as the new District 23 representative.

He has already made some news, floating the idea of a bill to crack down on anonymous posters on Web sites; the suggestion raised the immediate ire of anonymous posters on internet sites. And of the state’s editorial page editors.

Hartgen is not sure if he'll introduce a bill on anonymous commenting, but he's also interested in adding internet harassment to the state's telephonic harassment statute.

Citydesk caught up with Hartgen recently at the Annex where he lamented his old paper’s softening stance on public schools, hailed the process of the state capitol renovation (he chairs the Capitol Commission) and recalled his trip to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis earlier this year.

Hartgen said in his days at the Times-News, the paper was more conservative on education, oriented to accountability and merit pay.

“That’s where I am philosophically,” he said. “I think we need to support education but I also think we need to scrutinize it.”

Hartgen grew up in university family in Maine and he taught journalism prior to becoming a publisher.

In July, after Rep. Bert Brackett moved up to the Senate to fill the late Sen. Tom Gannon’s spot, Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter appointed Hartgen to Brackett’s House seat. Hartgen than ran to defend his appointment in November, winning a solid 65-35 margin against Democrat Mike Ihler.

In recent years, Hartgen has served as a business and political consultant in the Twin Falls area. Hartgen said in an interview that he considers the names of his clients a private business matter.

But according to Idaho Secretary of State expenditure records, in 2006 and 2008, Steven Hartgen & Associates did consulting work for Reps. Fred Wood, Jim Patrick, Bert Stevenson, Sharon Block and, not surprisingly, Stephen Hartgen. He was paid for advertising, media relations, advice and general campaign expenses by several of his newest colleagues.

“The clients–it’s a one time thing–it’s people that I helped, but once the campaign is over, and I would tell you that they all won, it’s not an ongoing relationship,” Hartgen told citydesk.

Along with his stock picks, it's a sign that Hartgen, at least, picks winners.

Citydesk would like to accompany this guy to Vegas for a state legislator convention sometime.

This is the first in a series on Idaho's newest class of legislators.