Simpson says if it Comes Down
by Gregory Hahn
TWIN FALLS -- If it comes down to water versus dams, Rep. Mike Simpson will pick water.
The debate on how to save the salmon has not yet turned to a choice of breaching dams or taking more water from southeast Idaho, Simpson said Tuesday, but if it did, he would protect his district's water.
When asked if he could describe a scenario where he would vote to remove the dams, Simpson said, "I can't create the scenario, but I can't write off the possibility."
Simpson, though, has in no way conceded defeat to dam breaching proponents.
"As long as we focus on removing the dams," he told The Times-News' editorial board Tuesday, "I think we ignore everything else."
He reiterated his call to find every possible way to save the fish before making a decision to breach the four Snake River dams, but he said the sentiment in Washington -- where the final decision must be made -- is leaning towards restoring the natural river. The economics simply don't affect that many congressmen.
"I think there's more political momentum now (for breaching)," he said. "But I think the public is saying, 'Let's think about this more seriously.'"
Here's what Simpson had to say on other issues:
* On candidates and their history: In refusing to answer yes or no but saying he would have passed an FBI background check, Texas Gov. George W. Bush has said enough about whether he took cocaine when he was young, Simpson said.
"I think that's pretty much all you need to know," he said.
In response to a similar question in eastern Idaho in last fall's election, Simpson said he had smoked marijuana 30 years ago.
Simpson said the public doesn't -- and shouldn't -- care what a candidate did in the distant past.
Simpson also supported Lt. Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, who made headlines recently after getting into trouble with federal and state environmental agencies over changes Otter made to a watershed on his property.
Otter, who has been plagued over the years by more than his share of well-publicized scandals, has no secrets for the North Idaho voters and would make a good congressman, Simpson said.
* On so-called "emergency" spending: Congress will likely break its self-imposed spending caps this year, but one way to spend more without admitting it is to earmark some money as "emergency" funding.
Simpson said he's not too worried about it because some of the increases are needed, in areas such as defense and veterans' affairs.
"It's a game," he said. "But that cap has at least forced us to try and stay under it."
* On money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund: Simpson said he likely will vote for a bill to boost the fund by $900 million if a couple of proposed amendments are approved as well.
The fund, which has been allowed to almost dry up, lets the government buy and conserve land. Simpson said he wants Washington to set limits on how great a percentage of land the federal government can own in any one state and to require it to follow state water laws when it buys new land with water rights.
* On user fees for public land: California Rep. Mary Bono has a bill to kill the demonstration fee programs, but Simpson said he hasn't signed on. He has found many people who think the fees have done some good -- the money is helping with local needs by staying local. He hasn't decided whether to support the program on a permanent basis, but Simpson said he won't vote to kill the demonstration project.
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