Our View: Pragmatic Simpson our pick


April 25, 2014 

The contentious GOP primary race between Rep. Mike Simpson and Idaho Falls challenger Bryan Smith has been "on" since last summer, when we learned Smith won the backing and financial support of the Club for Growth, a national conservative organization specializing in unseating incumbents who don't live up to its standards for "pro-growth policies, limited government, low taxes and economic freedom."

This is important because the primary race in Idaho's 2nd Congressional District might boil down to the word "conservative" and the qualifying adjectives attached.

More than four times during an hourlong interview with the Statesman Editorial Board this week, Smith, an attorney who litigates for businesses and who owns a collection agency, called himself the "true conservative."

Two days later, during the board's conversation with Simpson, the incumbent included himself among the "practical conservatives" in Congress.

Frankly, we don't care what dot on the C-spectrum people profess to occupy. The word conservative is nearly drained of its meaning because so many hijack and attempt to exploit it.

We do care about actions.

We endorse Simpson to advance in the May 20 Republican primary because he has acted like a grown-up more often than a "No" unit during the too-often congressional tantrums we must endure. He recognizes the real problems Idaho and the United States face: crumbling infrastructure, tax reform, entitlement reform - not to mention Idaho's interest in the farm bill and the Idaho National Laboratory.

Simpson is realistic rather than rigid about budget balancing and achieving tax reform. Discretionary spending cuts alone will not bring a balanced budget. Tax reform won't happen until, as he advises, we sunset the current tax code.

Congress moves more like an aircraft carrier than a single person in a kayak on a mission - which seems to be Smith's overly simplistic and scripted philosophy: Sack the Department of Education, cut spending, make the government smaller and more in touch with the people in Idaho.

There are a lot of candidates who would sign on to that before getting into specifics. Idaho is a recipient of a lot of federal money. How will Smith balance the fact that 36 percent of the Idaho budget comes from the feds? Last summer Smith said the PILT program - for which Idaho receives about $26 million in Payments In Lieu of Taxes - was akin to "begging for crumbs." Smith is not a PILT fan. Simpson believes PILT should continue to be fully funded.

While it is obvious Smith intends to march a straight ideological line during primary season, we don't know what he would be like if he were to win the primary and the general election against former Congressman Richard Stallings, the last Democrat to represent Eastern Idaho in the House.

Except for this: When asked how he would deal with some Boise issues - the possible termination of the A-10 Warthog mission and relocation of the Idaho National Guard elsewhere - he spiraled through a descending series of conservative dogma, invoking the Constitution and Ronald Reagan before saying, "When it comes to specifics in the budget and what needs to be cut and what needs to be added, those are certainly things that are left up to the experts to decide."

Smith said he hasn't and won't consider House committees he might be effective in should he win it all. If Smith were to prevail and get to Washington, Idaho would lose the seniority, clout and attention Simpson has focused on the Gem State for much of his life.

In this coming primary we'll pass on the "true conservative" Smith and opt for Simpson, a guy whose record reflects Idaho more than the talking points of outside PACs.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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