Alan Simpson: Wyoming Senator Passionate about Politics, Civility and Family

"Peer pressure is a huge part of youth behavior, whether one grows up in Washington, D.C., or Cody, Wy" - Alan Simpson

Alan Simpson discusses his life journey and his beliefs in politics and in life.

Alan is a member of the Republican Party, who represented Wyoming in the United States Senate (1979–97).

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.

Emy diGrappa:                          00:00                        

Support for this podcast is brought to you by the Wyoming Humanities. We take a closer look at our human experiences and use stories to explore culture, history, and contemporary issues. You can find us on

Alan Simpson:                          00:16                        

I've effectively been able to piss off everyone in America.

Emy diGrappa:                          00:22                        

Hello. I'm Emy diGrappa. And this is What's Your Why? Each week we bring you stories asking our guests the question why. We learn about their passion. Why they do what they do. Why should we care? And what can we learn? What better place to explore the human landscape than from the state known for its incredible landscapes. Wyoming. And what better organization than Wyoming Humanities? Serving our state for over 45 years, we share stories, ideas, and wisdom about the human experience. Welcome to What's Your Why?

Emy diGrappa:                          01:05                        

Today we are talking to former Wyoming US Senator Alan Simpson. Senator Simpson served as a US Senator form 1978 to 1996. Welcome, Senator Simpson.

Alan Simpson:                          01:20                        

It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Emy diGrappa:                          01:21                        

We are so fortunate to be able to talk to a senior statesman of Wyoming. And, I feel privileged because you've done so much in your career. I could have read your whole bio, but it would, then we'd be done with our interview because it's so long. But, I wanted to really talk to you about your passion for politics. Why you entered into the political arena. Why you think it's important. And, just the future of our, our young generation and, and where, what they should be thinking about.

Alan Simpson:                          01:49                        

Well, you could launch into the usual stuff of love of state and love of county and wanting to do something, pay it back, pay it forward and all the rest and that would be, that would be nice and that would be true too. But, for me, I'd watched my dad serve as Governor of Wyoming. And, my mother was the first lady of Wyoming. They referred to her and she was a first lady in every respect. And then, Dad ran for the US Senate, was elected, and, I was married to a beautiful woman from Greybull, Wyoming named Ann Schroll for 62 years now. What I wanted to see is if public life had changed them. Uh, did it disrupt their marriage? Did it disrupt their, their parenthood? Did it mess 'em up? Because I'd seen plenty of guys who had been in politics and lost their own respect and their livelihood and their marriages and their children.

Alan Simpson:                          02:48                        

So, uh, I decided to get in and, and be a legislator. Uh, you, you wanna know what you wanna do. I couldn't administer my way out of a paper bag. I couldn't govern anything. But I, I knew I could legislate because I loved to draft things. I'd been a city attorney. I'd been an assistant attorney general and, uh, I could draft something and, and bring it to life and then bring it to the floor and amend it. And, have the floor debate and, and then take it to the other body to... And then avoid a veto and on and on and on. And that's what I loved and that's what I did. So I was fortunate to be a legislator and that was my bag.

Emy diGrappa:                          03:32                        

So did it change your life and change your marriage? How did you cope with all the, the heavy work and work load? And having children?

Alan Simpson:                          03:39                        

Well a, a sense of humor surely helps. And not taking yourself too seriously. And, you know, used to get a little flack for that. Uh, Simpson's not serious. No, sometimes he's not, but he takes himself seriously and he takes his work seriously and I do my homework seriously. And, the reason, for me at least, to work my head off and try to be the best I could, is just for one simple reason. So you won't make an ass of yourself. There's no great star in the sky or [inaudible 00:04:09] following the golden chalice. No, uh, and I loved the work. I loved the people. I loved with working guys, with guys on the other side and on my side. I loved controversy. I love controversy. I'm the master of lost causes and I've achieved life's ultimate goal at 85 with all the things I've done, the Iraq Study Group, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and the Common Good and the American for Campaign Reform [inaudible 00:04:41] America.

Emy diGrappa:                          04:41                        

(laughs). Now that's something to take to your grave, right?

Alan Simpson:                          04:44                        

Yes, it is.

Emy diGrappa:                          04:44                        

You can brag about that.

Alan Simpson:                          04:47                        

It just brightens your whole day. (laughing).

Emy diGrappa:                          04:48                        

What do you wanna say to the, to your grandchildren? To the younger generation. What, what should they be focused on in American politics? And in global politics too.

Alan Simpson:                          05:00                        

Well, don't make fun of politics. And don't make fun of politicians because, guess what? Democracy is politics. You can't have democracy without politics. So, don't sit in the lofty, uh, chair and say, "I believe in America and democracy," or the republic, whatever you want to talk about, and then hate politicians. "They're all slobs. They're all crooks. They're adulterers. They cheat. They steal." You know, on and on. Which is a stereotype that's not true. I met so many, many fine people in political life. Democrats and Republicans and Independents alike. So you just tell them, look, do the best you can. Stay in the middle of the road. And, plow as much as you can. Stay out of the furrows and the ruts on the left and the right. And if you're damned if you do and damned if you don't, then do. And don't just sit and bitch and wine and moan about your government.

Alan Simpson:                          05:59                        

I mean, here Anne and I at the age of 83, 82, that was a couple three years ago, we didn't like what was going on in our Park County Republican Party. So guess what? We ran for Precinct Committee Man and Woman. So now we're prec- Precinct Committee Man and Woman and District 25 won, which is where you start at the very beginning. And that's how these other people took over the party. We were all asleep. And, uh, then they worked their way in with some of the most asinine stuff. A person in our, in our precinct put in a resolution that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation. Well I wait 'til the end so I wouldn't get too [inaudible 00:06:44] and I got up and I said, "About this resolution here, if anyone really believes that, you're missing a hell of a lot of fun." Well, she clutched her shriveled bosom and fell back on her chair and that was the end of that. I mean, honest to God.

Alan Simpson:                          06:57                        

Or get rid of the 16th amendment. What is that? It's the income tax. Well, what do you replace it with? "Well, we'll find the money." It's, you know, it's a trillion and a half a year. So I mean, you remove the capital to Shoshone. "Well," I said, "that's brilliant." "Well it's in the center of the state." "Yeah, well, yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative) that's what we'll do." Of course we'll do it on the cheap. I mean, finally your mind snaps and you get in the game.

Alan Simpson:                          07:23                        

So, you don't like what's going on? Get in the game. But don't come to me and whine about your government or the state or the state legislature. Give me a break. If you don't like it, get in the game. I'm not very sympathetic to people that just have great ideas of how to bitch.

Emy diGrappa:                          07:40                        

Well let me ask you this then. Is there room for a third party? Do you have to either be a Republican or a Democrat? Can you be an independent? What do you think about that?

Alan Simpson:                          07:51                        

Well you can. And many people are. I think more, I think half the people in the United States I think are independent or registered that way now. Um, doesn't surprise me. They're fed up with the Democrats and they're fed up with the Republicans. I mean, look what's happening. Uh, bizarre activities, on, in both parties. Which were well portrayed in the primaries. The Bernie Sanders people are still smoked about Hilary and, up in our land, the Cruz people are still wondering what happened to them. They're probably gonna try to vote against Trump. I mean, I don't know, I can't figure it all out. All I know is that the parties will either have to, to come back from obscurity and, and absurdity, and drop the social issues which are so bitterly, you know, gays and lesbians, uh, we're all God's children. You don't have to believe that, but we are. And, and it's the law of the land. Or abortion. Abortion is one of the most horrible things I can imagine. I'm a man so I can't imagine it. But I, I say it's a deeply intimate and personal decision.

Alan Simpson:                          08:58                        

So what is this business of a party? My party, which whole theme is government out of our lives, the precious right of privacy, and the right to be left alone. That's a great Wyoming philosophy. Well then give up this other stuff where you're intruding on everyone's life. You can't be a fake. And that's hypocrisy and total fakery. We're giving lessons on morality while you're diddling your secretary. I don't need to hear that. Don't give me anymore off that. So-

Emy diGrappa:                          09:32                        

You know-

Alan Simpson:                          09:33                        

But first of all-

Emy diGrappa:                          09:34                        

But I-

Alan Simpson:                          09:34                        

-this is a great group you represent. The Wyoming Humanities Council. Go ahead.

Emy diGrappa:                          09:38                        

And, and I was gonna ask you about that. I was gonna ask you, why do you think the Humanities are so important in education?

Alan Simpson:                          09:46                        

Well, those are the softening agents of life. Uh, politics is barbaric. I know better than anyone. It's, if that's all your life is, just be in politics, and just run around like a chicken with your head cut off, figuring, "How do I get reelected? How do I get reelected? How do I..." without doing anything. Without getting into too much controversy. By shad- By giving up pieces of myself all my life because I wanted to be a US Senator, wanted to be a Governor. So you give away pieces of your life and finally there's nothing left of you. You have to have the softening agents of life. The softening agents are music and art and, uh, theater and poetry and the movies if that's what you want, uh, or the visual arts or, or ballet, or, or Tchaikovsky or Beethoven. I mean, the whole, whole universe of stuff to take your mind off the ragged, rugged edges of life. And there's nothing more ragged or rugged than a politician trying to spend the rest of his or her days for one simple thing: trying to get reelected.

Emy diGrappa:                          10:59                        

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alan Simpson:                          11:00                        

So, those are important. Uh, important to my wife and myself and our children and, they have fortunately picked up on that so that they never get too serious. Never get so bad that they don't smell the flowers. You know, if you keep your noise to the grindstone rough and you keep it down there long enough, soon you'll find there's no such thing as birds that sing and brooks that babble. Soon three things will your world compose. Your shoe, the stone, and your damn red nose.

Emy diGrappa:                          11:31                        


Alan Simpson:                          11:31                        

It's a marvelous thing.

Emy diGrappa:                          11:32                        

I love that.

Alan Simpson:                          11:33                        

I do too.

Emy diGrappa:                          11:33                        

That's beautiful.

Alan Simpson:                          11:34                        

I think I didn't quite say it right, but it sounds good.

Emy diGrappa:                          11:37                        

One time you said, let's see, in an interview in 2015, you said, "Money, Money's dominance over politics isn't merely one problem or many our country faces. It is the problem." Do you still believe that statement? Is it getting worse? And what can we do?

Alan Simpson:                          11:55                        

Oh it's terrible.

Emy diGrappa:                          11:56                        

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alan Simpson:                          11:57                        

And, uh, you know, I'm a lawyer so you're not supposed to remain highly critical of your highest court. But let me tell you, that Supreme Court decision on money was the worst, goofiest type of decision. Because, the first amendment was for a person. It's the only amendment to the Constitution that was for a person. And it was put in there to protect some guy cranking out seditious literature in a basement in Philadelphia, making fun of these guys, and they said, "We can't just... You can't stop." But don't forget, the, the founding fathers never allowed the media within 100 yards of the building. There's a reason for that. They got their work done. It was contentious. It was passionate. Slapped each other around, then go drink port all night and then come back and do it again. And the media was not allowed to say anything. To even be there. So that they wouldn't come out with a little piece like they do, now we have 24/7, picking a little piece.

Alan Simpson:                          12:55                        

I knew as I did this, they'd follow you around all day and you get tired. And they're waiting for one slip. They're not waiting for anything positive. They're waiting for one little gaff. And that's the headline. Stupid would be another word. They're not interested in clarity. They're interested in conflict, confusion and, and controversy. So, that makes a real tough working arena-

Emy diGrappa:                          13:20                        

I liked where you were going with that, because, you were talking about money's dominance over politics.

Alan Simpson:                          13:27                        

Yes, yes. It's anonymous.

Emy diGrappa:                          13:28                        

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alan Simpson:                          13:29                        

The Supreme Court's decision said that a corporation has the first amendment right of speech. That is so twisted. Because only an individual has that. But anyway, they did it. And then you can contribute as much as you want. And you can do it in a clandestine or secret manner. Anonymously. That's the destruction. Because the American people are pretty smart. They've always been smarter than their politicians. American, Wyomingites have always been smarter than their politicians. That's why we're still here. But let me tell ya, when the little guys says, "I was gonna give 10 bucks, but why should I give?" I read in the paper the other day that this guy had a PAC named, you know, Snake's PAC or whatever it is, and got 25,000,000 bucks. So they don't need me anymore. And so they think, well they must be corrupt and it's a perfect idea. To think that you might be corrupt by getting 2,000,000 bucks anonymously from somebody, for what was the reason for that person's contribution? Access? Of course. An advantage? Of course.

Alan Simpson:                          14:33                        

So, if we kept fooling ourselves there. And so I'm working with Bill Bradley, Senator Bradley, and Democrats and Republicans alike, to do something about campaign finance reform. And, and get money out of the system. Maybe even with a Constitutional amendment.

Emy diGrappa:                          14:48                        

Wow. I appreciate that. Thank you so much.

Alan Simpson:                          14:51                        

Well, you won't appreciate it. But, you just go ahead... If you're waiting for a program in disgust, you get plenty of that every day, but if you're waiting for praise, don't hold your breath. Just go do something. (laughing).

Emy diGrappa:                          15:06                        

Just go do it.

Alan Simpson:                          15:06                        

Do something.

Emy diGrappa:                          15:07                        

That's great advice.

Alan Simpson:                          15:08                        

Get off your can and get in the game. Take part or get taken apart.

Emy diGrappa:                          15:11                        

The beauty about the way you handle it is that you just let go of it. You don't take people's criticism and make it part of your body and your heart and could so-

Alan Simpson:                          15:23                        


Emy diGrappa:                          15:24                        

I think that's, that's the hard thing when you get into public life. Is can you let it go?

Alan Simpson:                          15:29                        

Well, that's the toughest part. And, a good politician knows how to let it go. But the unfortunate part, their, their spouse and their children and their mother and father don't have that same ability. I remember wh- when I was in office, Anne and I'd get my foot in it, which I did with regularity and I was 16 6E shoe. And Anne wouldn't... She'd say, "Well, you brought it on yourself. You did." But then when our son ran for office, and somebody, boy, she was, she was like the eagle flying off the cliff with her talons.

Alan Simpson:                          16:04                        

I said, "Anne, you never protected me like that." "No, but you, you got yourself in. This is our little boy." So- (laughs).

Emy diGrappa:                          16:11                        

That's a good mom.

Alan Simpson:                          16:12                        

It is a good mom. A good mom.

Emy diGrappa:                          16:13                        

That's right.

Alan Simpson:                          16:13                        

A good woman too anyhow.

Emy diGrappa:                          16:15                        

Thank you. Thank you for taking your time to talk with me today.

Alan Simpson:                          16:18                        

Well, we'll have some fun here tonight with Mike Sullivan. You think I'm gonna be civil to that rascal? We're gonna tear him limb from limb.

Emy diGrappa:                          16:24                        

(laughs). All right.

Alan Simpson:                          16:24                        

He's a dear friend.

Emy diGrappa:                          16:26                        

I, I know.

Alan Simpson:                          16:29                        

Thank you.

Emy diGrappa:                          16:29                        

Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why? A production of ThinkWy, Wyoming Humanities. This has been Executive Producer, Amy diGrappa. Please subscribe and never miss a show. For more information, go to