Helping the nation starts at home

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Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson pulls no punches. He is crusty, direct, sometimes profane and he isn’t all that concerned with what people think of him. But he certainly cares about the future of this country.

The outspoken Republican from Wyoming was in the Denver area on Monday to share his views on the topic he has grown synonymous with in recent years, the national debt. He has some complex, controversial and detailed ideas on reducing that $16 trillion mountain.

But when Simpson took some time to speak with us before addressing an audience at the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, what stood out most was his call to action for everyday people.

“If you love your country, get involved,” he told us.

We strongly endorse that message. And Simpson sets a great example as someone who has spent many of his 81 years being involved.

He served briefly in the Army in the 1950s, was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives in the 1960s, and served in the U.S. Senate from 1979-1997.

In 2010, as the co-chair of a commission tasked with tackling the nation’s fiscal challenges, Simpson and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff for President Clinton, authored a plan that gained some popular support but not approval of Congress or the president. Simpson did not give up and is still taking on the debt, now as a co-founder, along with Bowles, of the nonpartisan Campaign to Fix the Debt.

South Metro Chamber President John Brackney, it should be noted, is a member of the steering committee for the campaign’s Colorado chapter. Brackney and the chamber, like Simpson, should be applauded for working to bring attention to the debt.

So what can you do to get involved?

Go to town halls. Ask questions. Write letters to the editor. Challenge your government officials when appropriate. Praise them when appropriate. These are basic, but effective, ways to make a difference as a citizen — whether your mission is debt reduction or saving a playground from being turned into a parking lot.

And for young people thinking of going into politics, Simpson suggests they focus on the work itself and enjoy it, rather than worrying about climbing the political ranks. Don’t be afraid to start small, be it the local school board or the city council. Be prepared to challenge and to be challenged.

Above all, be prepared to compromise because politics is like a good marriage in this regard: If one side insists on getting his or her way 100 percent of the time, not much constructive is going to happen. But through give and take, things can progress, as Simpson knows, having been married nearly 60 years.

“If you think compromise is a dirty word, don’t get into politics,” Simpson says.

He knows compromise, having taken his share of heat from both the left and his own party. His politics could be viewed as too liberal for the GOP and too conservative for Democrats, and that’s just fine with him.

Whether you like his politics or not, like what he says or not, Simpson has a passion for service. And for sharing that, we owe him a great debt.