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Re-election may not be a cakewalk for Simpson

August 10, 2018

Aaron Swisher of Boise, a Democrat who is challenging longtime Congressman Mike Simpson for the Second District seat, says that “20 years is enough for anybody to be in office.”

Simpson is not an example of a congressman who has outlived his usefulness. He has helped bring a lot of good things to the Idaho National Laboratory, and Idaho in general, through his position on the powerful Appropriations Committee. He engineered passage of the wilderness bill for the Boulder White Clouds, which took many years to accomplish.

But Swisher’s point is well taken. Twenty years is a long time for anybody to hold a congressional office. Even the best of them can become complacent, and even lazy, after so long in office.

Simpson has his share of detractors, but he probably has one of the safest seats in Congress — which is why I have to tip my hat to Swisher. Sure, anybody can run for Congress, and there are plenty of strange people who do. But the 46-year-old Swisher, who is making his first run for a public office, is not a token candidate. He’s a bright guy with some good ideas and the ability to deliver an effective stump speech, as he did during the state’s Democratic convention this summer.

“People want an alternative, and I’m going to give it to them,” Swisher said to applause at the convention.

He talks about some of the ideals that are dear to Democrats, such as raising the minimum wage, standing up to Wall Street and keeping the abortion option open for women. But he also talks about the need for a limited government, fiscal responsibility and balancing the budget. He’s fine if people want to think of him as a “conservative” Democrat.

Swisher, who has a degree in economics and finance from Boise State University, wrote a book years ago called “Resuscitating America,” which provides a roadmap for Congress to balance the budget, raise wages and improve people’s quality of life. He’d like to bring that blueprint to Washington, but is aware of the difficulties of getting something like that through. At least he’s thinking about something of substance.

Former Congressman Richard Stallings, the last Democrat to hold the Second District seat, is Swisher’s campaign treasurer.

Unlike Democrats running elsewhere, Swisher is not spending his time bashing President Donald Trump or talking about how grand things will be if Democrats take over the House. Swisher is no fan of Trump and has been especially critical of the president’s recent summit with Russian President Putin. But he gives Trump credit in some areas, and especially on trade policy.

“We need to have conversations about trade policies, and Trump has brought that forward,” Swisher says. “Mike Simpson is a free trader, and I am not.”

Swisher says Trump’s election to the presidency was a reflection of frustration people felt and a willingness to try something new. He sees some of the same frustration with people in the Second District and hopes they’d want to try something new.

“The people I’ve talked to in rural areas feel they are not being heard. Republicans don’t go to those areas because they think they have it locked up, and Democrats don’t go because they think they can’t win,” Swisher said. “No matter how good of name recognition you have, or don’t have, you’ve got to get out and talk with the people. Idaho is an independent state and people like to see who they are voting for.”

He believes the timing is right for a Democrat to make a serious run. The party’s enthusiasm appears to be at a high level, and Swisher thinks he can get his share of independent voters. He’ll also court Republicans on the right, who have long complained about Simpson being too liberal and in office for too long.

I’m not sensing an upset here, but Swisher deserves props for stepping forward and making a race of it. Simpson would be well advised to take this opponent seriously.

Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com. This column originally appeared on idahopoliticsweekly.com.

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