Alan Simpson (American politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alan K. Simpson
Simpson in 2012
Co-Chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform
In office
February 18, 2010 – December 1, 2010
Serving with Erskine Bowles
Appointed byBarack Obama
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Senate Minority Whip
In office
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1995
LeaderBob Dole
Preceded byAlan Cranston
Succeeded byWendell Ford
Senate Majority Whip
In office
January 3, 1985 – January 3, 1987
LeaderBob Dole
Preceded byTed Stevens
Succeeded byAlan Cranston
United States Senator
from Wyoming
In office
January 1, 1979 – January 3, 1997
Preceded byClifford Hansen
Succeeded byMike Enzi
Member of the
Wyoming House of Representatives
from Park County
In office
January 1965 – January 1977
Personal details
Alan Kooi Simpson

(1931-09-02) September 2, 1931 (age 92)
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Ann Schroll
(m. 1954)
Children3, including Colin
RelativesMilward Simpson (father)
Pete Simpson (brother)
EducationUniversity of Wyoming (BS, JD)
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom (2022)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1954–1956
RankSecond Lieutenant
Unit5th Infantry
2nd Armored Division

Alan Kooi Simpson (born September 2, 1931)[1] is an American politician and member of the Republican Party, who represented Wyoming in the United States Senate between 1979 and 1997. Simpson was the Republican whip in the U.S. Senate from 1985 to 1995, as majority whip from 1985 to 1987 and minority whip from 1987 to 1995. He also served as co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with Democratic Party co-chair Erskine Bowles of North Carolina.

Born in Denver, Colorado, Simpson graduated from the University of Wyoming's law school (1958). Simpson served in the Wyoming House of Representatives (1965–1977) and won election to the United States Senate (1978). His father, Milward Simpson, had served in the same seat (1962–1967). Simpson served as the Senate Republican Whip (1985–1995). After serving three terms in the Senate, Simpson declined to seek re-election in 1996.

Since leaving office, Simpson has practiced law and taught at different universities. He also served on the Continuity of Government Commission, the American Battle Monuments Commission, and the Iraq Study Group. In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed him to co-chair the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which made several recommendations on ways to reduce the national debt. He has been a vocal proponent of amending the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United v. FEC (2010) and allow Congress to set reasonable limits on campaign spending in U.S. elections.[2]

Early life[edit]

Simpson was born in Denver, Colorado, the son of Milward Simpson and the former Lorna Kooi. His middle name, Kooi, comes from his maternal grandfather, whose parents were Dutch immigrants.[3] In his youth, Simpson was a Boy Scout, and once visited Japanese American Boy Scouts who, along with their families, had been interned near Ralston, Wyoming, during World War II. There, he developed a friendship with Norman Mineta, who later became a Democratic U.S. representative from California, and the United States Secretary of Transportation in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.[4] Mineta and Simpson served together in Congress, and on the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, and remained close friends.[5]

Simpson has an older brother, Peter K. Simpson of Cody, a historian and a former administrator at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, who served in the Wyoming House of Representatives from 1981 to 1984, having represented Sheridan County, while he was then an administrator at Sheridan College. Pete Simpson was the 1986 Republican gubernatorial nominee, having sought the office while his younger brother was serving in the U.S. Senate.[6]

Simpson grew to 6'7" (201 cm) and would become the tallest Senator in the United States history until being overtaken by 6'9" (206 cm) Luther Strange in 2017, 20 years after his retirement.[7] He would later claim to have had shrunken to 6'5" (195.5 cm) at 85.[8]

Alan Simpson graduated from Cody High School in Cody, Wyoming in 1949 and attended Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in 1950 for a postgraduate year. He graduated in 1954 from the University of Wyoming with a Bachelor of Science degree, and in 1958 with a Juris Doctor degree. Like his brother, he was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at the University of Wyoming.[9]

In 1954, he married the former Susan Ann Schroll, who was a fellow UW student from Greybull, Wyoming. He served in the United States Army in Germany from 1955 to 1956, with the 10th Infantry Regiment, Fifth Infantry Division, and with the 12th Armored Infantry Battalion, Second Armored Division.[10]

Simpson had several run-ins with the law during his youth. An amicus brief filed before the United States Supreme Court in the juvenile imprisonment cases Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida,[11] states:

In Simpson's words to this Court, "I was a monster."

In that brief, in support of the claimant in the Supreme Court case, Simpson admitted that, as a juvenile, he had been on federal probation for shooting mailboxes and punching a cop and that he "was a monster".[12]

One day in Cody, Wyoming, when Simpson was in high school, he and some friends "went out to do damage." They went to an abandoned war relocation structure and decided to "torch" it. They committed arson on federal property, a crime now punishable by up to twenty years in prison if no one is hurt, and punishable by up to life in prison if the arson causes a person's death. Luckily for Simpson, no one was injured in the blaze.

Simpson not only played with fire, but also with guns. He played a game with his friends in which they shot at rocks close to one another, at times using bullets they stole from the local hardware store. The goal of the game was to come as close as possible to striking someone without actually doing so. Again, Simpson was lucky: no one was killed or seriously injured, or caught by their parents.

Simpson and his friends went shooting throughout their community. They fired their rifles at mailboxes, blowing holes in several and killing a cow. They fired their weapons at a road grader. "We just raised hell," Simpson says. Federal authorities charged Simpson with destroying government property and Simpson pleaded guilty. He received two years of probation and was required to make restitution from his own funds – funds that he was supposed to obtain by holding down a job.

As Simpson has described it, "The older you get, the more you realize ... your own attitude is stupefying, and arrogant, and cocky, and a miserable way to live."[13]

Simpson stated "I was just dumb and rebellious and stupid. And a different person," adding "You're not who you are when you're 16 or 18. You're dumb and you don't care, and you think you are eternal."[14]

Wyoming House of Representatives[edit]

Simpson served from 1965 to 1977 in the Wyoming House of Representatives from Park County.

U.S. Senate[edit]

Simpson (second from left) in a Cabinet Room meeting with President Ronald Reagan, Bob Michel and Bob Dole, 1985

Simpson was elected to the United States Senate on November 7, 1978, but was appointed to the post early on January 1, 1979, following the resignation of Clifford P. Hansen, who had succeeded Milward Simpson, Alan Simpson's own father, in the seat. From 1985 to 1995, Simpson was the Republican whip, Assistant Republican Leader in the Senate, having served with then Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas. He was chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee from 1981 to 1985 and again from 1995 to 1997 when Republicans regained control of the Senate. He also chaired the Immigration and Refugee Subcommittee of Judiciary; the Nuclear Regulation Subcommittee; the Social Security Subcommittee and the Committee on Aging.[15]

Simpson fishing in Wyoming with President George H. W. Bush (center) and Senator Craig Thomas (left)

Simpson was a moderate conservative. He supported abortion rights and voted against a ban of late-term abortions which did not include an exception for physical health, only for life-threatening conditions, in 1995 and 1996. However he opposed federal funding for abortions and supported the Hyde Amendment. He was also the co-sponsor of a bill regulating immigration.

Simpson voted in favor of the bill establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday and initially voted in favor of the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 (but voted to sustain President Reagan's veto).[16][17][18] Simpson voted in favor of the nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court.

After Congress[edit]

In 1995, he lost the whip's job to Trent Lott of Mississippi,[19] and he did not seek reelection to the Senate in 1996. From 1997 to 2000, Simpson taught at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he served for two years as the Director of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School.

Simpson then returned to his home of Cody and practices law there with his two lawyer sons (William and Colin) in the firm of Simpson, Kepler and Edwards. The three are also partners in the firm of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine of Englewood, Colorado. Colin M. Simpson, the third generation of his family in Wyoming politics, was a Republican member of the Wyoming House of Representatives who served as Speaker of the House for the 59th session of the Legislature, 2008 to March 2010. He was a candidate for governor in the primary in 2010, finishing fourth.

Simpson teaches periodically at his alma mater, the University of Wyoming at Laramie, with his brother Pete. He has completed serving as chairman of the UW capital "Campaign for Distinction," which raised $204 million. That success was celebrated by the gala event, "An Extraordinary Evening", featuring former President George H. W. Bush (who had reportedly considered Simpson for the vice presidency in 1988) and Vice President Dick Cheney, another UW alumnus, and his wife Lynne Cheney.

In 2001, Simpson became Honorary Chairman of the Republican Unity Coalition (RUC), a gay/straight alliance within the Republican Party.[20] In that capacity, Simpson recruited former President Gerald Ford to serve on the RUC advisory board.

In 2002, Simpson was involved in the Wyoming Republican gubernatorial primary on behalf of former Democrat Eli Bebout of Riverton.[21]

Simpson was one of four speakers chosen to eulogize President George H.W. Bush at his state funeral.[22]

Iraq Study Group[edit]

In 2006, Simpson was one of ten (five Democratic and five Republican) contributors to the Iraq Study Group Report.[23]

National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform[edit]

Simpson and Erskine Bowles meet with President Obama in 2010.

Simpson was appointed in 2010 to co-chair President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with Erskine Bowles.[24]

Simpson has spoken extensively about the burden being placed on future generations by the structure of current entitlement programs. In an opinion piece, "Young Americans get the shaft" published in The Washington Post on June 13, 2012, Matt Miller recounted asking Simpson (then a US senator) in 1995 how to fix this problem. Miller stated that Simpson told him "nothing would change until someone like me could walk into his office and say, 'I'm from the American Association of Young People. We have 30 million members, and we're watching you, Simpson. You [mess with] us and we'll take you out.'"[25]

He has continued to advocate for fiscal responsibility as a board member of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget[26] and a founder of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.[27]

Simpson in a 2011 CRFB dinner discussion with Judy Woodruff and Erskine Bowles

Campaign finance reform[edit]

Simpson has been a strong critic of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v. FEC,[28] calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in the case. In an interview with Wyoming Public Radio, Simpson said: "I think most Americans would like to see reasonable limits on campaign spending."[29]

Issue advocacy[edit]

Simpson has been an outspoken advocate for abortion rights, stating that the matter should not be a political issue in a party that believes in "government out of our lives" and "the right to be left alone" and "the precious right of privacy".[30] He supports LGBT rights, and equality regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. In an article in The Washington Post, Simpson criticized the since-ended "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, stating "'Gay' is an artificial category that says little about a person. Our differences and prejudices pale next to our historic challenge."[31]

Civic participation[edit]

Simpson is on the board of directors at the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD). The institute was created at the University of Arizona after the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.[32] He is an honorary board member of the humanitarian organization Wings of Hope[33] and co-chair of the advisory board of Issue One, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce the role of money in politics.[34] In 2016, he joined the advisory board of American Promise, a national, cross-partisan organization that advocates for a 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution that would allow the U.S. Congress and states to set limits on campaign spending in U.S. elections.[35]

Presidential Medal of Freedom[edit]

Simpson awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Joe Biden in July 2022

On July 1, 2022, the White House announced that Simpson would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[36]

In popular culture[edit]

The June 7, 1994, edition of the now-defunct supermarket tabloid Weekly World News reported that 12 U.S. senators were aliens from other planets, including Simpson. The Associated Press ran a follow-up piece which confirmed the tongue-in-cheek participation of Senate offices in the story. Then-Senator Simpson's spokesman Charles Pelkey, when asked about Simpson's galactic origins, told the AP: "We've got only one thing to say: Klaatu barada nikto".[37] This was a quotation from a classic science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), in which an alien arrives by flying saucer in Washington, D.C.

Simpson also played himself in a cameo appearance for the 1993 film Dave.[38]

In December 2012, Simpson filmed a "Gangnam Style" video for a campaign, with a man in a tin can costume. The video, aimed at young people, is called "The Can Kicks Back," a reference to the tendencies of members of Congress to forever "kick the can down the road" in order to avoid making difficult decisions about lowering the national debt. In the video, Simpson admonishes younger Americans to make better use of their social media than "instagramming your breakfast and tweeting your first-world problems." He advises younger people to use their social media skills and resources to rally their friends to join The Can Kicks Back. If younger Americans do not take heed, Simpson says, "These old coots will clean out the Treasury before you get there."[39]


  • Right in the Old Gazoo: A Lifetime of Scrapping with the Press. (William Morrow & Company, 1997). ISBN 0-688-11358-3)


In 1998, Simpson received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[40] In 2011, Simpson and Erskine Bowles were presented the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government for their work on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.[41] In 2022 Simpson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House.


  1. ^ "Simpson, Alan Kooi, (1931 – )". Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  2. ^ Mullen, Maggie (February 4, 2017). "Former Senator Simpson Working To Reverse Citizens United". Wyoming Public Media. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  3. ^ "Congressional Record, Volume 141 Issue 14 (Tuesday, January 24, 1995)". Retrieved December 1, 2015.
  4. ^ Aratani, Lori. "Behind a WWII internment camp's barbed wire, two Scouts forged a bond. It endured when they both entered Congress". WP Company, LLC. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  5. ^ Matthews, Chris (2002). "A Pair of Boy Scouts". Scouting Magazine. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved December 16, 2006.
  6. ^ "Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson And Brother To Lecture In Boulder, Denver Nov. 11-12". University of Colorado Boulder. October 29, 2002. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  7. ^ Dowd, Maureen (April 20, 1987). "WASHINGTON TALK: CONGRESS; A Matter of Measurement (Published 1987)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  8. ^ "Alan Simpson Is No Longer the Tallest Senator, and He's OK With That". Roll Call. February 9, 2017. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  9. ^ "From the Archives: Alpha Tau Omega". Regents of the University of Colorado. May 5, 2018. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  10. ^ "The Jewish Veteran, Volume 32; Volumes 34-37; Volume 39". The Jewish Veteran. Vol. 32, 34–37, 39. June 1971. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  12. ^ Hudsn, David (2010). "Adult Time for Adult Crimes". ABA Journal online. American Bar Association. Retrieved May 19, 2010.
  13. ^ Nos. 08-7412 and 08-7621 IN The Supreme Court of the United States TERRANCE JAMAR GRAHAM Petitioner, v. FLORIDA Respondent. JOE HARRIS SULLIVAN Petitioner, v. FLORIDA Respondent. On Writs of Certiorari from the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District, page 11. July 23, 2009.
  14. ^ Prevost, Ruffin (November 10, 2009). "Simpson speaks out on Supreme Court case". Casper Star-Tribune. Lee Enterprises. Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  15. ^ DiGrappa, Emy (March 14, 2018). "Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson's Passion For Politics, Civility, And Family". Wyoming Public Media. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  16. ^ "TO PASS H.R. 3706. (MOTION PASSED) SEE NOTE(S) 19".
  19. ^ "Party Whips". Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  20. ^ Roerink, Kyle. "UPDATED: Alan Simpson, Wyoming lawmakers sign Court brief in support of gay marriage". Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  21. ^ Bohrer, Becky. "Former senator Simpson still 'loves the scrap'". Billings Gazette. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  22. ^ Tumulty, Karen. "Alan Simpson cried while writing George H.W. Bush's eulogy—so he wouldn't cry while giving it". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  23. ^ "Compromise Required With the Iraq Study Group". National Public Radio (NPR). Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  24. ^ Weisman, Jonathan (February 17, 2010). "Bowles, Simpson to Head Debt Commission". The Wall Street Journal.
  25. ^ Miller, Matt. "Young Americans get the shaft". WP Company, LLC. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  26. ^ "Board Members", Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, October 11, 2019
  27. ^ Sahadi, Jeanne (November 29, 2012). "What is 'Fix the Debt?'". CNN Money.
  28. ^ "We need a 28th Amendment". Casper Star Tribune. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  29. ^ "Former Senator Simpson Working To Reverse Citizens United". Wyoming Public Media. February 3, 2017. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  30. ^ Bedard, Paul (November 26, 2013). "Alan Simpson: Only women should legislate abortion law". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  31. ^ Sturcke, James (March 14, 2007). "US general splits opinion with gay remarks". The Guardian. Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  32. ^ "National Advisory Board".
  33. ^ "Start Page". Retrieved December 1, 2015.
  34. ^ "Campaign Finance Reform is Possible". Issue One. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
  35. ^ "Who We Are -- American Promise". American Promise. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  36. ^ "President Biden Announces Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom". White House. July 1, 2022. Retrieved July 1, 2022.
  37. ^ "Senators Jokingly Confirm Tabloid Claim They Are Space Aliens", Associated Press, May 25, 1994
  38. ^ "Alan Simpson (II)". Retrieved December 1, 2015.
  39. ^ "Must See: Fmr. Sen. Alan Simpson, 81, Dances To 'Gangnam Style'". Retrieved November 15, 2019.
  40. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  41. ^ "Douglas Award Honorees". Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois System. 2011. Archived from the original on December 25, 2020. Retrieved December 17, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Wyoming
(Class 2)

1978, 1984, 1990
Succeeded by
Preceded by Senate Republican Whip
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Clifford Hansen
United States Senator (Class 2) from Wyoming
Served alongside: Malcolm Wallop, Craig Thomas
Succeeded by
Mike Enzi
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Ted Stevens
Senate Majority Whip
Succeeded by
Alan Cranston
Preceded by Senate Minority Whip
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Government offices
New office Chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform
Served alongside: Erskine Bowles
Position abolished
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Senate Majority Leader Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Senate Majority Whip
Succeeded byas Former US Senate Majority Whip