Forget any talk about Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson stepping down after 11 terms, or speculation about the political drama that would occur from a hotly contested GOP primary.
Simpson told East Idaho News that he’s running again in 2020, which douses the prospects of those looking to pad their political resumes. But it’s good news for Idahoans who have benefitted from having a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee on their side.
Simpson doesn’t control the purse strings entirely, but he has heavy influence over funding issues that come to Idaho, the Idaho National Laboratory and western states.
Simpson perhaps could have more clout (maybe a chairman’s seat) if Republicans were in control, but he works well with Democrats and he’s not a partisan animal when it comes to appropriations.
Bruce Newcomb, a former Idaho House speaker and longtime friend of Simpson’s, is not surprised by the congressman’s decision to seek another term.
“He enjoys what he’s doing and he’s effective. His health is good and his mind is good,” Newcomb said. “Why should he hang it up? Replacing him – a senior member of Appropriations – for a freshman is a poor trade in anybody’s book.”
Yeah, but … Simpson is 68 years old and will turn 69 in September. For guys his age, and his golfing ability, goals may include a single-digit handicap, or shooting an 18-hole score that matches his age. But that’s not how Simpson is wired. He looks much younger than 68 and shows no signs of slowing down, or taking shortcuts with his job as a congressman.
“I don’t think you’ll live long enough to see that,” said Newcomb, chuckling.
Simpson’s crowning achievement, which took 15 years to get through, was the passage of the Boulder-White Clouds bill, creating a federally designated wilderness area. That would be a nice way to wrap up a career for some members of Congress, but not for Simpson. He has found another challenge, and perhaps a more daunting one – salmon recovery.
“Saving salmon is not easy, but Mike does not take on projects that are easy,” Newcomb says. In a recent speech to the Andrus Center in Boise, Simpson gave off signals that he is in this fight over the long haul – which could mean at least a few more terms in Congress.
“I am going to stay alive long enough to see salmon return to healthy populations in Idaho,” he said in a story written by the Idaho Statesman’s Cynthia Sewell. “You have to ask yourself, after spending $16 billion on salmon recovery over the last how many years, is it working?”
The answer, of course, is no.
“Make no doubt about it. I want salmon back in Idaho in healthy and sustainable populations,” he said. “Can this be done? I honestly don’t know. I don’t know if the willpower is there to do it. I don’t know if the willpower is in Congress to do it. But I will tell you that I am hard-headed enough to try. It is not unsolvable if good people come together and say we are going to save this animal from extinction.”
Simpson has detractors in the Second District. Conservatives view him as “too liberal” with appropriations and “too friendly” with environmental groups for his stands on wilderness and saving salmon. Simpson upset at least a few of his fellow Republicans three weeks before the 2016 election when he declared Donald Trump “unfit” for the presidency. Simpson has softened his view toward President Trump since then, but some Republicans have long memories.
The congressman also acknowledges the existence of climate change, which is not exactly a lead item in the GOP’s platform.
“How can you not believe in climate change? The climate has changed from the beginning of time,” Newcomb said. “Mike is a man of strong conviction, and politics does not have a lot of bearing on how he operates. He’s a problem solver.”
He also has proven himself, at least up to now, to be unbeatable in elections despite some vocal opposition. The time might come when he chooses golf over politics, or pleasure trips over congressional travel back home. But don’t count on those things happening anytime soon.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org