Stephen Hartgen 01

With both Christmas and the Idaho legislative session fast approaching, it seems appropriate this week to take look at how these are related.

Ya sure, you say. I can see that. Both take my money. They both involve “presents,” that is, things which I pay for, but others get the kudos for the largesse.

Goodies we might call ‘em, all laid out nicely under the annual tree of taxpayer generosity, there just for the taking. “For you!” “Awh, shucks, you shouldn’t have.”

In both cases, some of the “toys” are not as bright later as they appear. Some legislative proposals may seem shiny, but as with many Christmas presents, most of the immediate joy is in the opening.

Soon, it is sadly discovered that the toy doesn’t work as it’s supposed to, or it doesn’t come with batteries or money to implement, or assembling it is too difficult, So, it’s shoved back in the box to be reopened in another year.

A couple of days ago, I got a somewhat urgent message from the Trump campaign, asking for a “donation.” I thought “Hummm….doesn’t he have lots of money, golf resorts, hotels in Florida, places like that,?” If not in Russia or Ukraine, as the Dems claim? Does he really need my check?”

But ah ha, anticipating my turndown, the site says if you give even a small amount, they’ll send you some Trump wrapping paper for your Christmas presents! Now that caught my eye. Trump paper? I can think of a few relatives to whom a gift wrapped in Trump paper would be no gift at all, a skunk at a garden party.

But then, I’ve got a few other relatives for whom Trumpian wrapping paper would be, well, ideal, and quite a few of them live in Idaho. So, yea, I’ll order some along with some MAGA hats for the kids.

How, you might ask, does this relate to the legislative session, which cranks up on Monday, Jan. 13? Well, among the nice bills will be a fair number of not-so-good ideas which will be set out for push, but which no one will claim after the Dem and media fanfare on IdahoPTV.

Many of these will have hidden liberal or barely-disguised sponsors from groups with cushy offices near the Capitol who know they can’t get actual legislation passed for the state, but whom nevertheless spend three months in Boise, hustling the halls and talking about their great concepts which deserve hearings.

Some of these proposals will involve so-called ‘scope of practice” issues, which usually means the entity wants a change in law to allow them to expand their business at someone else’s expense.

It’s a zero-sum game in which legislators are dragged through torturous hours of testimony for a minute word change which then emerges, from which the winners go home emboldened and the losers calculate how to blunt it later.

Little of this gets reported in the press, as reporters don’t know how to even begin and, besides, most of them are already lined up pro-or-con on the basic proposals by their own liberal ideologies and persuasions.

The halls of the Capitol are thus a two-block long cemetery in which the flawed ideas are routinely buried among the statutory headstones of past sessions, leaving only the barest of journal entries, like Cheshire cat grins, to show they were ever even there.

Hundreds of bills are introduced every year, but only a third or so make it under the holiday tree. The rest? They’re just a box of simpering puppies set out on the Capitol steps until they find shelter and love elsewhere, if they ever do.

Then, winter fades into March. The days draw longer and the robins and cackling geese return to the Capitol window ledges. The minority party members gamely hold out on key votes; the alt-rights thunder on about the Boise “tyranny” of how their own flawed measures were shunted aside, shiny though they once were.

Finally, mercifully, it is over for another year. Legislators, exhausted from the 90-day sprint of the session, truck gamely home, to be met by a very few praises, a few more critiques and sometimes, a primary challenge, usually from the alt-rights.

A year later, they’re back at it, following a Christmas-wrapped month of sparkle, glitter and some good work accomplished in public service. The Trump wrapping paper? It’s neatly folded for use again after the 2020 election.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.