Editor's Note: Boise Weekly sat down with Rep. Jarom Wagoner (R-Caldwell) on Jan. 5, four days before his predecessor Brandon Hixon died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Jarom Wagoner knew he was ready for the Idaho Legislature in 2012, when he ran for Idaho House Seat 10A in the GOP primary and lost to challenger Brandon Hixon by 85 votes. Hixon went on to serve in the Idaho House for two and a half terms, until his abrupt resignation in October 2017 in the wake of an investigation by the Idaho Attorney General's Office. Hixon was arrested twice in December 2017 on DUI charges, and on Jan. 9, he was discovered in his Caldwell home, dead of suicide.
Hixon was not the primary subject of the interview with Wagoner, but in the course of the conversation the now-late lawmaker did come up. Wagoner, 41, also talked about his hopes and expectations for the new legislative session and being what he called "the freshest of the freshmen" at the Idaho Statehouse.
What did you learn from losing such a close primary election in 2012?
The question always is: "Is it better to lose by just a few votes, or is it better to get beat by thousands of votes?" It was tough being so close, but it also gave me encouragement. I became a GOP precinct chairman and that gave me the opportunity to prove myself over the past five years.
When you were asked to take this job, were you also asked to commit to running for this seat again in an election?
When I talked to my wife, we didn't look at this as a three-month deal. We fully expected to fulfill this term and then run in the May primary and November general election.
How would you describe your politics?
I wouldn't put myself to the far right-wing. I think I'm a level-headed conservative. You've got to listen to both sides. You can't not listen to someone just because they have a "D" next to their name. That gets us nowhere.
Can I assume that your name won't be attached to any proposed pieces of legislation this session?
My main goal isn't to push a lot of legislation this year. It's all about listening and learning.
How well did you know Brandon Hixon?
Not too well. Obviously we ran against each other in 2012, so we ran into each other at different debates and events. I'd never really met him before that. To be honest, I didn't see too much of him after that. If I saw him at a Central Committee meeting, we would say hello. That's about it.
What distinguishes you from him?
I think I'm pretty approachable. I've lived in Caldwell more than half my life, so I think I understand those needs and have an in-depth knowledge of what those people want.
Were you as stunned to hear about the investigation of Mr. Hixon as the rest of us?
Has his story been the topic of much conversation in your community?
There are a lot of unknowns. Once you start assuming, that's where things go wrong.
How do you balance your full-time job as a planner for the City of Caldwell, your new part-time job at the legislature and family time with your three sons?
Even though our kids are young, my wife and I wanted them involved in this decision. I said, "Look, this is going to be early mornings and late evenings. You're going to have to step up and help Mom out even more."
As a husband, father and public servant, can you speak about the importance of ethics, now more than ever?
For me, it's all about reminding my kids that there are good people out there. You hear about all the bad things, but there are a lot of good people out there and we can be those people. We absolutely need good people to be in office. Those are the ones setting the rules that we live by.