Rep. Mike Simpson (R)
Idaho 2nd District
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd District of Idaho, from central Boise east to the Wyoming border, is one of America’s most picturesque, with thick forests, mountain ranges, broad river valleys, and vacant expanses. It was settled from the east by overland pioneers who stopped in Idaho’s farmlands, and from the south by Mormons moving up from Utah to Franklin, Bear Lake, and Caribou counties. It has one of the largest concentrations of Mormons among congressional districts. Pocatello began as a railroad town, with unionized railroad workers. Fifty miles north on Interstate 15, Idaho Falls serves as the metropolis for a vast region stretching from West Yellowstone, Wyo., to the Salmon River Mountains. Near Idaho Falls, on a windswept, desolate range, is the Idaho National Laboratory, one of the Energy Department’s 10 national laboratories. DOE’s leading laboratory for civilian nuclear energy research, development, and demonstration, the facility covers 890 square miles and employs more than 8,000 workers, making it the third-largest employer in the state. West of the laboratory campus, amid the mountains, are Sun Valley and the nearby town of Ketchum. Sun Valley was established as a ski resort in 1936 by Averell Harriman before he began his political career. Ketchum attracted writer Ernest Hemingway in 1939, and various movie stars came as well. In recent years, Blaine County, which includes both Sun Valley and Ketchum, has attracted rich expatriates from the East and West coasts, including heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry and her husband, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry. The wealthy imports and the people who wait on them at ski resorts have made Blaine County the most Democratic county in Idaho. It stands in vivid contrast to the Idaho Falls area, the Mormon country, and the farmland along the Snake River, which are among the most Republican areas in the nation. The 2nd District also includes the east side of Boise, which leans Republican but has some Democratic precincts.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: Sept. 8, 1950, Burley .
Education: UT St. U., 1968-72; Washington U., D.D.S. 1977.
Family: Married (Kathy).
Elected office: Blackfoot City Cncl., 1980-84; ID House of Reps., 1984-98, Speaker, 1993-98.
Professional Career: Practicing dentist, 1977-98.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Mike Simpson, a Republican first elected in 1998. Simpson grew up in Blackfoot, became a dentist, and joined his father’s dental practice. He was elected to the City Council in 1980 and to the state House in 1984. He didn’t declare himself as a Republican until then, and was opposed by the local Republican party. In 1993, he became speaker of the Idaho House, but he kept up his dental practice as well. In the Legislature, he was known as a moderate in a predominately conservative chamber, affable and able to get differing sides together. When Republican Gov. Phil Batt announced he would retire in 1998, Simpson wanted to run, but GOP Sen. Dirk Kempthorne’s decision to seek the office closed that option. GOP Rep. Mike Crapo decided to run for Kempthorne’s Senate seat, thus opening up the House race for Simpson.
|Mike Simpson (R)||205,777||(71%)||($649,431)|
|Deborah Holmes (D)||83,878||(29%)||($16,765)|
|Mike Simpson (R)||49,586||(85%)|
|Jack Chappellá (R)||4,900||(8%)|
|Gregoryá Nemitzá (R)||3,747||(6%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (62%), 2004 (71%), 2002 (68%), 2000 (71%), 1998 (53%)
The seat was hotly contested. In the Republican primary, state Rep. Mark Stubbs called for lower payroll taxes. He had opposed nuclear programs at the INL, while Simpson wanted more work at the facility. But the big issue was term limits. Simpson refused to take a pledge to serve only three terms, while the other candidates did. Term-limit advocates spent large sums against Simpson. Angry at the ads, Batt endorsed Simpson five days before the election. Simpson ran ads against “out-of-state folk” interfering with Idaho’s elections. Simpson beat Stubbs 47%-41%. The Democratic nominee was Richard Stallings, a former history professor elected to the House in 1984 and re-elected three times. In 1992, he ran against Kempthorne for the Senate and lost 57%-43%. Stallings emphasized his conservative voting record in the House, called for more education spending, and said he would act to fix falling farm commodity prices. Simpson called for a smaller federal role in education. He favored tax cuts and the creation of personal investment accounts in Social Security. Simpson won 53%-45%, losing the most well-known parts of the district—Pocatello, Sun Valley, Boise—but carrying just about everything else.
In the House, Simpson built a moderate record, particularly for a Western Republican. He has reached out to Democrats on economic and social issues, and he helped establish a bipartisan caucus to talk about the trade-related needs of farmers and ranchers. Simpson voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005 because of its potential impact on Idaho’s sugar beet industry. “When I came to Congress, I was a free-trader. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and I’ve come to understand that more and more. I’m starting to become one of those people I disagreed with a few years ago,” he said in 2007. President Bush signed two of his bills: one to protect hunting rights in the expanded portions of the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, and the other to overhaul job-training programs for veterans.
In 2003, Simpson showed his skills as a party insider when he got a seat on the Appropriations Committee, a post he used to win funding for the Idaho National Laboratory, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Simpson became a leading defender of appropriations earmarks, the special spending projects inserted into bills for individual lawmakers’ districts and states. He opposed restricting earmarks but supported greater transparency in the process. After Democrats took control of the House in 2007, Simpson called incoming Appropriations Chairman David Obey one of Congress’s most honest members. “He’s the kind of guy I can work with,” he said. In 2007, Simpson lost his seat on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees nuclear energy spending. He pleaded with Obey, and Obey obliged by adding one Democratic and one Republican seat—Simpson’s—to the subcommittee. Obey said of Simpson, “He works with people on both sides and he’s a good, solid legislator.” Simpson was the only Idaho member to vote for the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan, a Democratic initiative that attracted few Republicans. As a dentist, he said that the addition of dental care for children would save money in the long run. In 2008, Simpson was the only member of the Idaho congressional delegation to support the $700 billion bailout of the financial markets. “We got into this mess because of failure of government oversight,” he said. “Consequently, I think there’s a role for government to play in trying to get us out of this, as much as I don’t like it.”
Simpson has said he would “die trying” to create a Boulder-White Cloud Management Area and he has spent seven years negotiating the plan with opposing constituencies. In 2006, he came up with a plan to preserve 312,000 acres in the central Idaho mountains and to transfer federal land in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, a winter range for elk, to the city of Stanley and to Custer County to bolster their tax bases. To placate motorized-recreation advocates, he included a new 960-acre motorized park south of the Boise airport. To woo environmental groups, which were divided over the plan, Simpson added 630 acres of state land along the Salmon River and proposed to turn over federal land in eastern Idaho for a new state park. Simpson got his bill added to a sure-to-pass tax-cut bill in 2006, and secured a promise from Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican who opposed it, not to stand in the way. But the bill was dropped in last-minute tinkering by congressional leaders, and Simpson has continued to push versions of it since without success.
Simpson won re-election three times with a better than 2-1 ratios, but his lead slipped to 62%-34% in 2006, when he faced former Democratic state Rep. Jim Hansen, the son of former Republican Rep. Orval Hansen, who represented the district from1969 to 1975. Simpson was back on his game in 2008, winning re-election with 71% of the vote.