Steve Hartgen of Twin Falls has been a member of the Capitol Commission since 1998. He is also a member of the House of Representatives. This interview was conducted in February of 2009.
What is your take on the restoration and expansion of the Capitol? This is a wonderful piece of public work. It's our grandest public building in the state, but it has characteristics I think you have to almost think about to really see. One is a sense of proportion. It was designed as a certain place in this city; and as commissioners we wanted to save that sense of proportion. So the design that we chose for underground, below-grade wings was really designed to allow that sense of proportion to remain.
A second aspect is a sense of color and light. I'm not a native Idahoan. I moved out to Idaho in the early 1980's from an eastern state. I think for those of us who come here, the sense of light and shadow, and the way that works both externally on the building and now internally in almost every room, I think people are just going to be astounded at the restored beauty of the facility and how it reflects that kind of wonder, a sense of grandeur of the public place.
In a sense, I think that's what Tourtellotte was thinking about. He was thinking if I could bring a building that has those characteristics, that the people's work would somehow be reflective of the structure in which it occurs.
Has there always been a forward motion with the Commission? I think there's always been forward motion, and it's partly due to the leadership of the commission. Roy Eiguren, Jack Kane, people like Will Hart who have been here who have been involved in it early on, they have always had a sense of moving forward. Yes, we've had some places where we've had to sort of regroup - particularly on the finance side - but out of that has come better designs. To come in on-time and on-budget, that in itself is a tribute to the legislature and to the governors who have led us and the commission members themselves.
One hundred years ago, some folks complained about the expenses associated with building the capitol. Do you think that will happen this time? People who see this building will say ‘Wow, you were able to accomplish this for $120 million in these times over a six or seven year period of time?’ The building speaks for itself in that regard.
But you know, you could hardly point to a public building anywhere that didn't have critics at the time who said, ‘well, it's too grandiose, it's too much.’ I think that we've struck just the right balance between grandeur and majesty but without being grandiose and excessive.
I think it's just going to be a wonderful building, our premier facility, and I hope my great, great grandchildren come here and enjoy it.
Do you have a favorite place in the Capitol? I like the idea that the Senate and the House will have to have lunch together, and that didn't happen previously. The two bodies were separate, and now with them sort of breaking bread together over that short noon hour, I think we're going to have some interesting better dynamics maybe in the two chambers as a result of that. I'm looking forward to that.
I think the building will give us all a sense of common good. These are contentious times; our politics are marked by contentiousness and quarrelsomeness. I would hope that the expansiveness of the building and the sort of grandeur it emits will cause us to think about the larger common good that we all share by being here. We're here every year to serve the people of the state. I think it will help promote that, and I'm looking forward to serving.