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In race against Mike Simpson, challenger Wendy Norman pushes for affordable health care

Republican Mike Simpson and Democrat Wendy Norman are running for U.S. Congress in Idaho’s second congressional district. (Courtesy of Mike Simpson and Wendy Norman)
Republican Mike Simpson and Democrat Wendy Norman are running for U.S. Congress in Idaho’s second congressional district. (Courtesy of Mike Simpson and Wendy Norman)

Norman says Simpson has abandoned his once moderate principles and moved to the right politically along with much of the Republican Party

A teacher from Rigby is challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson’s re-election bid in Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District race because she believes the 12-term congressman has lost touch with regular Idahoans.

Democrat Wendy Norman is making access to affordable health care a central push in her campaign. Three years ago, Norman’s younger sister died in part because she could not afford health care working as a single mom, Norman said.

“The money situation, for a single mom, was such that she made the choice to not get that health care, and her kids woke up Christmas morning and didn’t have a mom,” Norman told the Idaho Capital Sun in an interview. “To me, no American should be dying without access to health care. So that is one of my significant purposes in life, and if I can make a difference there, that is what I will work for.”

Norman said she hadn’t considered a career in politics before but was urged to consider running for office this year. She said she’s long agreed with and respected Simpson, particularly for his work on natural resources and environmental issues. Norman told the Sun she has previously registered as a Republican but affiliated with the Democratic Party to run for Congress.

But Norman says Simpson has abandoned his once moderate principles and moved to the right politically along with much of the Republican Party. Norman criticized Simpson for his support of former President Donald J. Trump and Simpson’s vote against the American Rescue Plan Act, a COVID-19 stimulus package signed into law by President Joe Biden.

As a public school teacher, Norman said supporting schools and ending extremism and school shootings are her other top priorities. Norman teaches in the small eastern Idaho town of Rigby where a 12-year-old girl shot two students and a custodian in 2021. Norman has a daughter who was at Rigby Middle School, where the shooting happened. The shooting traumatized their family, as has each subsequent school shooting in America. It also opened Norman’s eyes to a need to do something different.

“To this day, when she hears a balloon pop it terrifies her because she was in math, which is where that occurred,” Norman said.

“I was a teacher when Columbine happened and I was a teacher when Sandy Hook happened, and I imagine my little first-grader and somebody walking in there with a gun and taking out my little first-grader that I love,” Norman said. “It is wrong, and it is time for us to quit saying ‘my right to own any weapon is more important than the lives of those little first-graders who died at Sandy Hook or those little fourth-graders in Texas.’”

Norman supports limiting the sale of high-capacity magazines that can hold large amounts of ammunition or cartridges to young people. Norman wants to look at gradual firearms licensure, so that 15- or 16-year-olds aren’t immediately given assault rifles or high-capacity magazines.

Idaho’s Mike Simpson has held office for 48 years

Originally a dentist by trade, Simpson has held elected offices in Idaho since 1984. He served in the Idaho House of Representatives from 1984 to 1998, serving as speaker of the House for his final six years in the Idaho Legislature.

Simpson was elected to his first of 12 terms to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998.

Simpson serves on the House Appropriations Committee and is the ranking member of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

In Congress, Simpson sponsored the legislation that created the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness, which has since been renamed the Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness. Designated in 2015, the Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness is one of the newest protected wilderness areas in the United States. The wilderness includes more than 275,00 acres of high mountain terrain, including the 11,815 foot Castle Peak, and dozens of clear subalpine lakes. Motorized equipment and travel is prohibited in the wilderness, which is home to dozens of species of animals and plants and is used for hiking, fishing, hunting and more.

In February 2021, Simpson made waves when he unveiled a $33 billion proposal (which has not yet become a bill) that he said is designed to save the endangered and threatened salmon from becoming extinct. The Columbia Basin Initiative plan calls for breaching four lower Snake River hydroelectric dams located in Washington, replacing the energy generated by the dams and financially compensating the farmers, communities, businesses, utility companies and others that are affected and tied to the river.

Simpson’s fellow Gem State Republicans including Gov. Brad Little and the GOP-controlled Idaho Legislature came out against Simpson’s plan and said breaching dams is a nonstarter. But the Nez Perce Tribe and some conservation groups are in favor of the plan.

“I am not certain removing these dams will restore Idaho’ salmon and prevent their extinction,” Simpson saidin a video posted to his YouTube channel. “But I am certain if we do not take this course of action, we are condemning Idaho’s salmon to extinction.”

According to his campaign website, Simpson’ other top priorities include supporting Idaho farmers, promoting Idaho agriculture products and supporting nuclear energy and the Idaho National Laboratory. Simpson says he opposes bans on firearms ownership and abortion rights.

Efforts to reach Simpson for comment were unsuccessful.

Democratic challenger Norman wanted the chance to debate Simpson

Simpson declined to debate Norman in the statewide Idaho Debates leading up to the general election, which resulted in the cancellation of the debate. Simpson also declined to debate his opponents leading up to the May 17 primary election.

“To me, it feels like (Simpson) has retired and that is the thing, he is just resting on his laurels rather than telling us what he plans to do if he is re-elected,” Norman said.

Norman said she hoped Simpson would have agreed to debate so she could have asked him how the A+ rating from the National Rifle Association that he promotes helped the students who were victims of school shootings in Rigby or Uvalde, Texas.

To advance to the general election, Simpson defeated a field of four other GOP challengers that included Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith.

Norman ran unopposed in the Democratic Party’s primary election.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.