University Boulevard will soon be known as MK Simpson Boulevard.
The Idaho Falls City Council voted Thursday night to rename the street, which is home to buildings such as the Energy Innovation Laboratory and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, for incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and his wife Kathy.
Simpson, a Republican who has been in Congress for two decades, had made supporting Idaho National Laboratory one of his signature issues, and INL officials requested the name change. He is chairman now of the Energy and Water Development subcommittee, which handles INL funding, although in January Ohio Democrat Rep. Marcy Kaptur is expected to become chairwoman after the Democrats took the House majority.
"We are fortunate in our area to have a congressman that really cares about our region," said Councilman John Radford. "That is a congressperson's job, you would say, and yet you see across the country that you don't always have that."
Radford pointed to the huge role INL plays in Idaho Falls’ economy, and said its growth, from what was mostly a cleanup site when Simpson took office to a major research facility now, has been largely because of him. The very buildings on University Boulevard, Radford said, are there due to Simpson's efforts. Radford said he didn't view it as a political statement but a recognition of what Simpson has done for the community.
“I want to just make sure that we understand tonight is about that recognition, and not in any way an endorsement,” Radford said. “It is just astounding what has happened at the INL. We have just a gem in that desert, and it is because of the efforts of Mike and Kathy.”
Councilman Jim Francis was the only “No” vote. He said he agreed with everyone about Simpson’s accomplishments but didn’t think it was appropriate to name a street after a politician who is still active in politics.
“What I think is right is political leaders get their recognition when they retire,” Francis said. “If we don’t take that approach, it does become a political endorsement, whether we like it or not. You can’t avoid the fact that that name’s on the sign and the Council voted for that.”
Councilwoman Shelly Smede said the fact that INL requested it, not the Council itself, made a difference. She also said the city received no objections after sending notices to property owners on University Boulevard. The city got one anonymous message on Thursday opposing the change, she said, but also heard from several people who support the change.
“I feel comfortable with this,” she said. “I feel kind of excited that this street could be more personalized for the people of Idaho Falls.”