Mike Simpson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Idaho’s 2nd District in 1998 after a successful career as a dentist in Blackfoot, Idaho. In the last two decades, Simpson, 71, has been a dependable GOP conservative vote on a plethora of issues from abortion to gun rights to agricultural legislation in the interests of his rural constituents. He opposed same-sex marriage and gay adoptions. He opposes legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. He believes in the validity of climate change and this is apparent in his support (though mostly unpopular with much of the Idaho GOP, including Governor Brad Little) of the Columbia Basin Initiative, pending legislation designed to breach four dams on the lower Snake River to improve salmon habitat. Rep. Simpson was also instrumental in the designation of parts of the Boulder-White Clouds area as federal wilderness.
Simpson, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), shared a Mormon’s distaste (think Mitt Romney) for the candidacy of Donald Trump, and was appalled by the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape by NBC News in October, 2016. At the time Simpson stated that he thought Trump was “unfit” to hold public office. But his subsequent voting record shows that he mostly supported President Trump’s agenda (“President Trump has been a champion for Idaho”).
Congressman Simpson seems to be having it both ways. Much of the Idaho GOP base (always possessed of a populist streak anyway) was disturbed by Simpson’s recent placing of himself among the 35 House Republicans who voted for the creation of the January 6th Commission to investigate the “insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol that he felt represented “a dark and tragic moment for our nation.” Thus Rep. Simpson joined the ranks of such GOP outcasts as Elizabeth Cheney (R-Wyoming) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois), and others who are likely doomed in the 2022 midterm elections or are retiring.
Senator Mike Crapo, 70, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998, the same year Mike Simpson won his House seat. He seeks to win a fifth term this fall. Crapo is the first LDS Church member in Idaho to hold a seat in the U.S. Senate. Unlike Simpson, Crapo voted against the January 6th Commission authorization in the Senate.
Yet he was one of 19 Republicans along with his Idaho Senate colleague James Risch to join the Democrats to throw President Biden his lifeline for the recent Infrastructure bill. Senator Jim Risch is 78 years old and not up for reelection until 2026, when he will be 82. One assumes Risch will retire then. If so, good riddance.
The two Mikes have always sought the support of a constituency found in many red Western states, that being kneejerk Republicans who consider Democrats anathema.
Kneejerks spout the rhetoric of Western rugged individualism, which in the end calls for the federal government to spread around taxpayer largesse in the form of public works projects, and agricultural benefits such as cheap grazing fees for ranchers running livestock on leased federal land. This explains Crapo’s and Risch’s support of Joe Biden’s early stage “Build Back Better” plan as it concerns Idaho. Their message to Washington? Please leave us alone, but send us lots of money. In Idaho, the pork barrel rests on a firm foundation of freedom and liberty.
The two Mikes also share the allegiance of a monolithic Idaho voting bloc, the LDS Church, which in Simpson’s eastern Idaho district accounts for approximately 30 percent of the electorate. Ask Utah U.S.
Senator Mitt Romney to explain the importance of that demographic. Considering Simpson’s conservative voting record that mostly supported Donald Trump’s policy agenda, why would he turn on Trump and support the January 6th Commission/committee? Maybe the answer lies in his Mormon background.
Among religious denominations the LDS Church exemplifies a strict theological view of morality. Without getting deep in the weeds in matters of doctrine, one can say that the Mormons are exemplars of leading the upright life and have no tolerance for heterodox behavior in the ranks, especially among the young. After high school young LDS men and women undertake an assigned two years-long “Mission” (either domestic or international with a crash course in a foreign language if necessary) and are not permitted to attend college or marry until that task has been completed. Marriage or immoral behavior outside the Church is considered apostasy.
Roman Catholicism tolerates alcohol consumption, it is even part of the central ritual of the Mass. The mainline Protestant denominations now endorse LGBTQ rights, same-sex marriage, and are for the most part pro-choice in the abortion debate. Paradoxically (though they dismiss Mormonism as a cult), Evangelical Christians are closest to the LDS Church as purported paragons of virtue. Did Simpson vote for the January 6th Commission/Committee out of a sense of moral indignation in opposition to a president at odds with his moral sensibilities and that of many of his constituents? Did Rep. Simpson vote for Donald Trump in 2016? Despite being pleased with his policies, did he vote for him in 2020? Who knows?
This year the Congressman will have a primary challenger named Bryan Smith, who previously ran against him in 2014, garnering 38 percent of the vote, the highest tally ever in a primary opposing Simpson. Smith, 59, an Idaho Falls lawyer active in state GOP politics, is cut from the same cloth as Simpson (conservative, LDS Church membership). His quest for a House seat could come to fruition on primary day (May 17) if he gains Donald Trump’s endorsement, whom he supports. And it’s unlikely that Simpson will gain that endorsement given his support of the January 6th Commission/Committee.
As for Senator Crapo, his seat is safe. He faces three primary challengers: Mike Little, a disabled Iraq war veteran from Weiser and former cop; Scott Trotter, a Lewiston businessman; and Jeremy Gilbert, a former Army infantry officer from Boise. None has any political experience.
I will see how the May primaries play out. But I won’t be voting for either Simpson or Crapo in the November Election.
Bill Croke is a writer in Salmon, Idaho.