Rep. Mike Simpson is easily Idaho’s most effective lawmaker.
Idaho, and particularly eastern Idaho, should hang onto Simpson for as long as it can. Simpson is a man who represents his district and has a skilled hand for crafting policy that works, something that is getting rarer on Capitol Hill as strident ideology and culture wars take over Washington. When he is no longer in office, expect life to get a bit harder.
Call Simpson a career politician if you like. It’s been an admirable career.
Simpson has maneuvered his way into key leadership positions on committees that directly affect his constituents. He has a key say in legislation that affects the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, water policy, wildfire management and nuclear energy.
The obvious value Simpson provides can be seen in the difference between the nuclear energy budgets proposed by the Trump Administration, which always involved slashing spending dramatically, and the final appropriation bills in which funding was restored. It can also be seen in legislation aimed at ending the practice of “fire borrowing,” where land management agencies have to dip into funds meant for maintenance and fire prevention in bad fire years — and nearly every year is a bad fire year of late.
Simpson has played a key role in protecting the Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools programs which provide vital aid to rural counties throughout Idaho. Without these federal funds, taxpayers in some of Idaho’s most rural counties would face either sharp property tax increases or local governments unable to perform basic services.
Simpson also succeeded where so many before him had failed, spending years crafting a negotiated consensus to create new wilderness areas near the Boulder and White Clouds mountain ranges. If he had failed, a likely outcome would have been a national monument designation by President Barack Obama which included none of the compromises on issues of access, followed by a swift revision under the Trump Administration.
Aaron Swisher, Simpson’s Democratic challenger, has put an admirable focus on issues facing the working poor — incomes that are inadequate to build a decent life upon, health care that’s unaffordable and inaccessible, and an education system that often doesn’t leave disadvantaged students with many avenues for advancement.
But Swisher advocates some policies that don’t make sense.
For example, Swisher’s advocacy of a so-called BTU Tax — a tax that would hit not only climate-change-driving energy sources like coal generation but also several forms of zero-carbon energy — is a poor way to address climate change. A much more obvious solution, one favored by many economists concerned about climate change, is to tax carbon emissions directly. Simpson should reconsider his opposition to a carbon tax, which may be his constituents’ best chance to avoid what former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones called “an unbearable hothouse for future generations.”
The bottom line is that, if elected, Swisher won’t be able to match Simpson’s key committee positions for a long time. Simpson’s experience and leadership provide concrete dividends to our region, and he has our unanimous endorsement.