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If you like Alan Simpson's story, you might also like:
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Alan Simpson
Alan Simpson
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Alan Simpson Biography

Statesman and Advocate

Alan Simpson Date of birth: September 2, 1931

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  Alan Simpson

Alan K. Simpson grew up in Cody, Wyoming, where members of his family have practiced law for over a century. As a young boy, Simpson enjoyed the outdoor life of the Mountain West, where memories of the frontier past were close at hand. He enjoyed hunting and fishing and participated in the Boy Scouts. His scouting activities led to an unusual experience that he credits with shaping his world view.

During World War II, Japanese-American citizens from the West Coast of the United States were forcibly relocated to internment camps in the interior. One of these camps was located near Cody. The internees struggled to preserve a semblance of normal life, and the young boys in the camp maintained a scout troop. Simpson's troop visited the interned boys in the camp to share scouting activities. Simpson formed a friendship with one of the interned boys, Norman Mineta from San Jose, California.

Alan Simpson Biography Photo
The two men resumed their friendship years later as members of Congress from opposing parties. The memory of the interned Japanese-American families -- innocent citizens wrested from their homes and held in captivity solely because of their ancestry -- made a lasting impression on the young Simpson, a chilling demonstration of the injustice that a free people can stoop to when fear overcomes reason.

Simpson's transition to adolescence and adulthood was a difficult one. Overweight and self-conscious, he masked his insecurities by becoming the class clown. By his own account he was a rebellious, undisciplined youth, often in trouble at school, and occasionally in trouble with the law. A coach at Cody High School encouraged him to channel his aggression into physical activity and team sports. Regular training for football and basketball eventually turned his excess weight into muscle, and as he reached his full height of six feet, seven inches, he developed the lean physique he has retained throughout his adult life. He also retained the sense of humor he had developed as a child, but in adolescence, Simpson's clowning took a dangerous turn. When he and a gang of friends turned their rifles on U.S. mailboxes, the teenage Simpson faced federal criminal charges. After pleading guilty and agreeing to make restitution, he was placed on federal probation and required to report to a parole officer.

Alan Simpson Biography Photo
Sports and pranks had taken precedence over study in his high school years, so his parents sent him to the elite Cranbrook School in Michigan for an extra year of schooling before college. At Cranbrook, Simpson began to take a serious interest in academics for the first time, and developed a lifelong love of reading, especially the works of Shakespeare. After Cranbrook, he entered the University of Wyoming, where he was active in fraternity life, sports and campus politics. He earned letters in both football and basketball, served in the Student Senate, and was President of the Lettermen's Association. But before graduation, his willful conduct once again threatened to derail his academic career. A scuffle with a policeman in Laramie landed him in jail and cost him an award from the university. The possible consequences of his conduct had finally come home to him, and he resolved to take life and school more seriously. He graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree, undergraduate preparation for the legal career his father and grandfather had pursued before him.

The summer after graduation brought two major events in his life. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and he married Susan Ann Schroll, a fellow student at the university. That fall, Alan Simpson's attorney father, Milward Simpson, was elected Governor of Wyoming, and Lt. Alan Simpson reported for duty at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He continued his service in Germany, participating in the final months of the postwar occupation.

After completing his military service, Simpson resumed the study of law, and received his graduate law degree from the University of Wyoming in 1958. He was admitted to the Wyoming bar and briefly served as Assistant Attorney General of the state. His father's term as Governor ended in 1959, and Alan Simpson joined his father in the family firm of Simpson, Kepler and Simpson in Cody. The younger Simpson also served as City Attorney in Cody for a decade.

Alan Simpson Biography Photo
In 1962, Milward Simpson was elected to the United States Senate. Two years later, Alan Simpson was elected to his first term in the Wyoming House of Representatives. While the elder Simpson retired from politics after one term in the Senate, the younger Simpson found a lifelong calling in public service. In his 13-year career in Wyoming House, he rose through the ranks to the positions of Majority Whip, Majority Floor Leader and Speaker Pro Tempore.

Alan Simpson was elected to the United States Senate in 1978. He proved immensely popular with his peers as well as Wyoming voters. In 1984 he was re-elected with 78 percent of the vote, and was chosen by his Republican colleagues to serve as Assistant Majority Leader. As second-in-command of his party, Simpson formed a close relationship with Majority Leader Robert Dole. He served as Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, as well as subcommittees on Immigration and Refugees, Aging, Social Security, and Nuclear Regulation. Simpson's humor and independent spirit enabled him to forge consensus among unlikely allies on a host of issues. Although many of these committees dealt with the kind of "hot-button issues" his peers preferred to avoid, Simpson proved adroit at crafting compromises with colleagues across the aisle, playing a major role in a 1986 overhaul of Social Security funding that extended the life of that politically sensitive program by many years.

Alan Simpson Biography Photo
With Democrat Romano Mazzoli, Chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives, Simpson also crafted a long-sought reform of immigration policy. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), better known as Simpson-Mazzoli, contained four major provisions: it required employers to attest to their employees' immigration status; it made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit unauthorized immigrants; it granted amnesty to certain illegal immigrants engaged in seasonal agricultural labor; it granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who had entered the United States prior to 1982 and resided there continuously.

Senator Simpson introduced the bill in the Senate in May 1985, but final passage required many months of negotiation. The House refused to consider the first version of the bill; a second version passed the House with amendments, only to fall apart in conference committee. After further amendments, the final version of IRCA finally passed both houses in October 1986. It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 6, 1986, two days after a national election in which Republicans lost control of the Senate.

Senator Simpson served as Minority Whip after the 1986 election, and as ranking member on his various committees, but the bipartisan spirit Simpson had tried to foster was waning. President Reagan's appointment of Federal Appeals Court Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court exposed deep divides, not only between the parties, but within them. As Minority Whip, and a member of the Judiciary Committee, Simpson was drawn directly into the fray. When the committee failed to recommend approval of the nomination, many Senators counseled Judge Bork to withdraw his name from consideration and spare his supporters a certain defeat on the Senate floor. Simpson, a Bork defender, urged the judge to see the fight through and force the members of the Senate to stand and be counted. In the end, the nomination failed, and Dole and Simpson lost the votes of four of their Republican colleagues.

Alan Simpson Biography Photo
Alan Simpson won re-election to the Senate in 1990 with 65 percent of the vote in Wyoming, but his last term in the Senate was to be the most contentious of all. Tempers on the Judiciary Committee, still raw after the failed Bork nomination, were inflamed again when President George H.W. Bush nominated Bork's Appeals Court successor, Clarence Thomas, to a vacancy on the Supreme Court. While the Bork hearings had revolved around the judge's alleged extremism in the field of constitutional law, the Thomas hearings explored matters even more volatile. When a former colleague of Judge Thomas's, law professor Anita Hill, leveled charges of sexual harassment against him, the televised hearings, complicated by issues of sex and race, became a spectacle of bitter national controversy. Although the Senate finally approved the nomination of Judge Thomas to the Supreme Court, Simpson and other Thomas supporters were subjected to harsh personal criticism. A spirit of vindictive partisanship still hovers over the process of judicial appointments.

When Republicans regained control of the Senate in 1994, some newly elected members sought a more assertively partisan style of leadership, and Simpson was replaced as Whip by Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi. In 1996, Robert Dole stepped down as Majority Leader to concentrate on an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the Presidency, and Alan Simpson declined to run for another term in the Senate.

Alan Simpson Biography Photo
On leaving office, Simpson published an amusing and characteristically uninhibited memoir of his often contentious relations with the press, Right in the Old Gazoo. In 1997, he joined Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, teaching in the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. For two years, he served as Director of the Kennedy School's Institute of Politics. In 2000, he returned to Cody, Wyoming to practice law with his two sons in the firm of Simpson, Kepler and Edwards. He revisited the University of Wyoming as a Visiting Lecturer in the Political Science Department, and along with his brother, Peter, taught a popular course entitled, "Wyoming's Political Identity: Its History and Its Politics."

In 2006, Simpson joined the Iraq Study Group, a ten-person bipartisan panel appointed by Congress to review America's military involvement in Iraq and explore alternatives to the existing strategy. Simpson was one of two former Senators on the panel, along with two former Secretaries of State, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and other respected public servants. Despite their varied political backgrounds, the group was able to make a coherent set of recommendations for policy changes, including direct dialogue with Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria. It did not recommend increasing troop strength, the course of action President George W. Bush eventually chose.

Alan Simpson Biography Photo
President Barack Obama, confronted with a troubling deficit in the federal budget, called on Alan Simpson to co-chair a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Working with Erskine Bowles, former Chief of Staff to President Clinton, Simpson attacked the budget with his usual candor and disregard for political expediency. The Simpson-Bowles plan, released in December 2010, called for both budget cuts and tax increases. It included a number of politically risky proposals: raising the eligibility age for collecting Social Security, and eliminating popular tax deductions, such as that for home mortgage interest. Serious analysts on both sides of the partisan divide praised the Simpson-Bowles report as a courageous and realistic approach to the nation's finances. President Obama -- and Congressional leaders in both parties -- stopped short of embracing the proposal, but it remains the basis for most serious discussions of a long-term solution to the nation's deficit challenge.

Senator Simpson continues to speak on public issues, and remains critical of what he sees as excessive and irrational partisanship in public discourse. Today, Alan Simpson, his wife, three children, and six grandchildren all live in his home town of Cody, Wyoming.

This page last revised on Jul 06, 2012 13:54 EDT
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