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Snake River Dams at the Forefront
for Republican Congressional Candidates

by Jakob Thorington
Post Register, May 7, 2022

Bryan Smith is again challenging Rep. Mike Simpson in the 2nd Congressional District

Congressman Mike Simpson has been talking to people throughout the northwest and in Washington, D.C. about the salmon crisis, and he says he's determined to do what he can to solve it. The future of salmon runs and four dams on the lower Snake River has divided many in the Pacific Northwest, and the topic is one of the pivotal differences for the two prominent Republican candidates to represent Idaho's 2nd Congressional District.

Bryan Smith, an Idaho Falls attorney and a vice chairman of the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee, is challenging Rep. Mike Simpson for the Republican nomination in the upcoming primary.

Simpson first defeated Smith in the 2014 Republican primary and collected 61% of the vote compared to Smith's 38%. Simpson has represented the district in the House of Representatives since 1998.

Idaho's 2nd Congressional District mostly makes up the eastern half of the state but also includes a portion of Ada County. The other district includes northern and western Idaho, and is represented by Rep. Russ Fulcher.

Smith has been a vocal critic of Simpson's proposal to breach four dams on the Snake River to save the salmon population. Salmon are anadromous, meaning they're born in freshwater and spend most of their lives in saltwater before returning to freshwater to spawn. The Snake and the aptly named Salmon rivers in Idaho are spawning migration routes for the endangered fish.

Smith said the cost of the plan is too great and it would negatively impact grain growers, electric rates and shipping.

The proposal asks for $33.5 billion in federal spending to breach the dams in 2030 and to replace the transportation, irrigation and power generation the dams provide. Funding would come from the Biden administration's multitrillion-dollar infrastructure package.

"Mike has spoken out of both sides of his mouth. He said himself he doesn't even know if his plan would work," Smith said. "No rational person believes you could possibly replace the clean power generated from those four dams with wind and solar power."

Simpson did tell the Idaho Statesman in February 2021 he was "not certain" if removing the dams would restore the salmon population, but he could not condemn the salmon to extinction.

Simpson also mentioned his "concept" annually brings 487,000 acre-feet of water back to Idahoans because Idaho is currently sending that water to flush the four dams in an attempt to save the salmon runs.

The four dams are the primary reason for the dwindling salmon population in the river and marine biologists project the salmon will go extinct without intervention, Simpson said. He also believes a judge will order the dams to be breached without a plan to recover resources generated by the dams in accordance with the Endangered Species Act.

"If you've got a better plan to save the salmon -- something we haven't tried, then let me know what it is," Simpson said. "I don't deny that those dams are important but there are other ways to replace the benefits of those dams."

Smith said he doesn't believe the dams have a significant factor on the salmon population and others have pointed to a variety of other factors including ocean conditions, predators going into fresh water to hunt and federal mismanagement that affect salmon. He said salmon runs in the river have fluctuated with highs and lows over the last two decades.

"Fish biologists will tell you even if all those (other factors) were perfect we'd still lose those salmon runs because of the dams," Simpson said.

Todd Myers, environmental director at the Washington Policy Center and board member of the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council, wrote in a 2021 blog post that spring chinook returns increased by 55% in 2020 and 27% in 2021 compared to 2019's historically low runs. Myers also noted the 2010s recorded the highest runs in decades.

"Mike is a radical environmentalist willing to hurt grain growers in northern Idaho. He would rather represent fish biologists and environmentalists," Smith said.

A 2020 study on the Snake River's salmon population conducted by researchers from the University of California, Old Dominion University and Brigham Young University found Snake River chinook and sockeye runs have decreased by 60% since the dams were built in the 1960s and another study from the Northwest Energy Coalition attributes a 90% decline in overall salmon runs because of the dams.

Simpson and Smith's views on governing also represent a divide between the Republican Party, with Simpson representing a more traditional stance on Republican politics and Smith representing a newer, far-right conservatism that has gained traction in the GOP over the last decade.

Smith said he supports amending the U.S. Constitution that places congressional term limits because the system was never designed for "career politicians" like Simpson and that Smith has a demonstrated history of fighting for conservative issues.

"Mike first began office 42 years ago (with the Blackfoot City Council) before the cellphone and internet were even invented," Smith said.

Smith also is the vice chairman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, an ultraconservative political action committee that has been criticized for its far-right ideology.

Simpson said there are advantages for Congress members that have accumulated several years of experience. Under Smith's proposal of term limits, representatives and senators from large congressional delegations such as Texas and Florida would dominate committee leadership positions and more power would be granted to bureaucrats and staff who don't have term limits, Simpson said.

Simpson is the chairman of the Interior Appropriations Committee, which oversees public land in Idaho. He's also been the chairman and is a ranking member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Committee, which funds Idaho National Laboratory.

"I think when people look at my record, they'll be pretty impressed with what we've been able to do for Idaho and making sure Idaho's values are represented in Washington," Simpson said.

The two candidates have not engaged in any debates since 2014 because Simpson refused to participate in Idaho Public Television's 2nd Congressional Debate.

In a statement to the Idaho Press, Simpson wrote Idaho Republicans don't need to see anything more from Smith and he told the Post Register he doesn't want to get on a debate stage with someone "unfamiliar with the truth."

Simpson said there are many issues, such as the Snake River dams, where he believes Smith either doesn't understand the issue or is lying to contradict whatever he says. He specifically referenced Smith telling people his proposal takes water away from Idahoans and Smith calling him a liberal. (All four dams affected by Simpson's proposal are in Washington state and they do not affect Idaho's water resources.)

"Why should I get on a debate stage with someone who frankly can't seem to tell the truth," Simpson said.

Smith called Simpson's statement a byproduct of arrogance that only a "life-long" politician could acquire. He said Simpson's campaign is misleading voters by taking a 2016 quote he gave to the Post Register about then Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump out of context to make it seem like Trump wasn't in Smith's top 16 choices because he was a delegate for Ted Cruz.

The Idaho Press reported Simpson's campaign leaves out the part of the quote where Smith said Trump is the nominee and he would support Trump.

Smith also criticizes Simpson because he voted for the Jan. 6 commission and for Simpson's campaign using a Trump endorsement from the 2020 general election in this race.

"He doesn't want to debate me because he can't defend his record," Smith said. "He knows he's lied about me and that I'd call him out. He's like a hit-and-run artist."

The primary election is May 17. The winner of the Republican primary will face Rigby Democrat Wendy Norman in the November general election. The other Republican candidates are Flint Christensen from Shelley, Daniel Algiers Lucas Levy from Sun Valley and Chris Porter from Meridian.

Jakob Thorington
Snake River Dams at the Forefront for Republican Congressional Candidates
Post Register, May 7, 2022

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