He didn’t pander.  If you’re like me, a conservative Republican, you sometimes or often didn’t agree on the definition of conservative put forth by Steve Hartgen.  He was an establishment fellow through and through and he made no apologies.  During his time in the state legislature, he appeared to enjoy the arguments.  After his retirement, he returned to writing a newspaper column.  Again, he skewered the opposition, even those in his own party.  He plainly didn’t give a darn if he hurt your feelings.

I respected that part of the man.

Newspaper Business Shaped the Man

His career was in journalism and he wrapped up that portion of his life as both editor and publisher at the Times-News.  He was the type of fellow my dad would say was filled with, “Piss and vinegar”.  Also a nod of respect.

I’ll build on that comment.  He was the real Perry White.  You know the fictional character from comic books, television, and movies.  The gruff and demanding boss.  He looked out for his product.

He Could Have a Good Laugh

What gets missed is his sense of humor.  A few years ago we got together at Perkins for a late day cup of coffee (I believe he had tea).  It was Good Friday.  Tea seems appropriate for the devout Baptist Mr. Hartgen was in life.  It was a quiet conversation until a loud man came by and started complaining about all the immigrants living in his community.  The loud guy was from Jerome, outside the representative’s district.

The man from Jerome had retired here.  He was originally from Buffalo, New York, and hadn’t expected Idaho to be ethnically diverse.  I grew up in Western New York State.  I know the type.  Loud is just the beginning.  The retiree started dropping some very colorful words about Hispanics and Blacks.  Hartgen pointed at me and mentioned where I worked.  I had met the loud man a few months prior at Walmart.  He suddenly looked embarrassed and walked away.

A Priceless Reaction

Hartgen smiled.  “I haven’t heard that word in 30 years!” he said.  He shook his head side-to-side in amazement.  Strange encounters are a fact of public life.  He let the worst roll off his back.

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