Thursday, February 22, 2024

OPINION: When 'privacy' does not apply

| December 28, 2022 1:00 AM

According to the Idaho Capital Sun, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson underwent surgery recently and will be out until after the new year. He gave his proxy to his counterpart in the First District, Congressman Russ Fulcher.

Thank goodness, all is well for the longtime congressman. “He is doing great and will be back in D.C. fully ready to vote on Jan. 3 for the start of the new Congress,” said Julia Horman, Simpson’s press secretary.

It’s not much of a story, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with Simpson getting surgery. But there’s plenty wrong with how his office handled it. The breaking of the story should have come from his office, and not the Capital Sun.

There’s no reason for the secrecy. If you live beyond 70 (Simpson is the same age as me, 72), body parts will need adjusting. I know people who have had knees, hips, shoulders and even hearts replaced. Many of these procedures are relatively routine by today’s standards, and people come back as good as new. Judging from his press secretary’s statement, it doesn’t appear that Simpson will be an exception.

Perhaps Simpson, and his office staff, would prefer to keep this private. But a congressman’s health status is in the public’s interest — whether it’s something serious such as a stroke or heart attack, or something routine. His constituents deserve to know if he is going to be out for any length of time, and who is casting votes on his behalf.

A few days ago, when Simpson’s surgery was not made public, I received a call from someone who talked about a number of horrible possibilities regarding to Simpson’s health — which is how ugly rumors get started. It would have been nice to counter that his office had sent out a news release indicating that Simpson was undergoing routine surgery and that everything was fine.

His office gatekeepers blew this one.

Simpson is such a huge figure in the history of Idaho politics. Some 20 years ago, when I was writing editorials with the Idaho Statesman, I asked Simpson why voters should elect him to another term. He gave one of the best answers ever.

“Because I’m damn good,” Simpson told the editorial board. We all just about fell out of our chairs with laughter. But, joking aside, he was damn good — insightful and funny, and a great one to interview.

Over the years, he has been good enough to keep winning elections while rising in the ranks of the Appropriations Committee — one of the most powerful committees in Congress for his constituency in the Second District. He was exceptional during his early days in Congress, when he made a point of building relationships with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. As a state legislator, he was a prime source for Statehouse reporters, including myself.

I remember a comment that the late Rep. James “Doc” Lucas, one of the great characters in Idaho politics, made about Simpson many years ago. “There ain’t no substitute for intelligence.”

Old Doc was right. Simpson was maybe the brightest bulb in the Legislature at the time, and I’d guess that he’s one of the smartest people in Congress today. What’s refreshing about him is his independence — he doesn’t always go along with the party line. He was the lead player in wilderness designation for the Boulder White Clouds, and is probably the only Republican in Idaho who can win an election by being friendly to dam breaching. More recently, he was the only member in Idaho’s delegation to vote for the Respect of Marriage Act, and one of only 39 House Republicans.

Ironically, the marriage act was sponsored in the Senate by someone else with an independent streak — Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who recently left the Democratic Party to become an independent.

There’s no question about it, Simpson has guts, but he’s not so much in the public eye these days. Media access to him is limited, he avoids contentious town halls and he refused to debate his opponents in the primary and general election campaigns. We didn’t hear as much from Simpson as we could have.

But to his credit, Simpson keeps on winning and he’ll probably have the job for as long as he wants. Who cares about anything else?

Chuck Malloy is a longtime Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at