The Roundup: A Conversation With U.S. Sen. Al Simpson

This week, Wendy Corr talks with former U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson. The Cody native was one of the most outspoken, recognized, and respected leaders in Washington, D.C., during his 18 years in the U.S. Senate.

WC
Wendy Corr

March 30, 202428 min read

Wendy al 3 30 24

Al Simpson

Wendy Corr:

Well, hey there, folks, welcome to The Roundup. I'm your host, Wendy Corr. And I'm the host of a podcast where we get to talk to interesting people, and talk about their history, talk about their personalities, talk about WHY they are WHO they are. 

And I'm telling you, this is one of these conversations that I've been looking forward to for a long time. I have known retired former Senator Al Simpson for years, and Al has always been one of the most singularly interesting - but a person who's interested in representing us, in talking about the things that are important to us. And Al never holds back, and I love that about him. 

I love talking to you, Al Simpson, thank you so much for being part of this conversation on Cowboy State Daily’s, The Roundup! 

Al Simpson:

You know that I'll get my foot in my mouth many times in this little conversation, so just shoot it up. 

Wendy Corr:

All right, well, we're just gonna get going then. Let's start talking about Cody, Wyoming. Al, you grew up in Cody, you and your brother Pete grew up here in Cody, Wyoming. Tell me about the Cody of your youth.

Al Simpson:

Well, it was a beautiful time, and it's still a beautiful time. I was born in Denver - there was one doctor here and my mother gained about 40 pounds and they didn't know quite … and she was a trim and beautiful woman. So they put me on the train to Denver and I was born in Mercy Hospital. And then they sat around playing gin rummy for a couple of weeks and brought me back. 

And Pete was born in Sheridan, and we're 13 months apart. And our parents married in 1929. And they were very deeply involved in the community, and in Wyoming activities and national activities at every level, and that’s something Pete and I observed, and tried to emulate.

Wendy Corr:

Of course, your father was the governor of Wyoming for a time. 

Al Simpson:

He was, and then he was defeated for governor. And then he ran for the US Senate, and he was elected. So he knew the ups and downs.

But the thing that, for Peter and for me, was to see if there were any changes in them. In other words, the governor of Wyoming and the first lady of Wyoming, and then to the US Senate and Washington and all those things - and we could see that there were no changes in mom and pop. 

And so both of us thought, you know, you could get in that game and not be ruined.

Wendy Corr:

That is something that I don't think we see a whole lot of at all. You see people go off to Washington DC and then they become a different person. And Al, what was your experience? And when did you get into politics? 

Al Simpson:

Well, I ran for the state legislature in ‘65. It was the Goldwater debacle, and I took a lot of people out of the precinct, the chairman, and we took people to the polls and they said, “Al, we're going to vote for your guy, Goldwater, we just think he's great.” Well, our precinct came down 72% for Lyndon Johnson.

So that was the end, but that was to learn about disappointment. You just keep doing it, everything hangs by a thread - nothing is certain. There is no way to say, “I'm going to pass this, or I’m going to kill this,” you have to stay with the flow. And George Bush said it correctly - he said, “What would we do without family and friends?” That's what it is.

Wendy Corr:

And that is something that has kept you solid, that's kept you grounded, is your family and friends - through all of your political career.

Al Simpson:

That is the key. Ann and I've been married seventy years on June 21st - hopefully we'll just have a little ice cream sandwich in the park or something. But we, you know, beautiful children and beautiful friends in Cody and at the highest levels. 

I learned a lot, I worked in the fields of the TE Ranch, I worked as a concrete worker, working in a creamery making cheese - you wouldn’t want to find out how we did that, we used our arms, we didn't have a thing that went around, you just got down there with your arms. 

Wendy Corr:

That's the personal touch for making cheese. 

Al Simpson:

Well, it is. But anyway, you know, and all those things took place. 

I've learned as much from cab drivers as I have from presidents. You always listen. 

And I was involved in 20 years of law practice. A lot of it was domestic relations, there was murder, rape, incest, you know, the whole works. So you never knew what was coming in the door. But in the course of it, you knew that, if you just listen to the person who's aggrieved, and shut up yourself, they often solve their own problems. Because no one has listened to them in their own situation. They've closed them off. You know, “Your mother's got a butt as big as an oven over there, tell her I'm ready to eat, and I have not spoken to her for two days.” Those are the things that make people shrivel and die. So I listen and take notes, and usually we'd find some course of some relief or justice. 

Wendy Corr:

Justice. Very good. You know, I want to back up to when you said you married Ann. I want to hear your story about you and Ann, because I actually got a chance to interview you once for a Valentine's Day article, and you and I and Ann all chatted about your love story. And I sure want other people to hear about you and Ann, and how you got started. 

Al Simpson:

Well, it’s just not that tender. (laughs)

Anyway, I saw her, I was playing basketball for junior high, and we played the Greybull Buffaloes. In those days, that was our conference. And I saw this cheerleader over there. I really wasn't a charming fellow, I had knock knees and zits. And she ignored me - but I’d ignore her. And neither Peter nor I danced - and the Burlington boys all danced and the Greybull boys all danced. 

But anyway, then we got to the University of Wyoming, and we saw each other again, and she had been through a steady romance with some… (grumbling, chuckling). He had a car, and cashmere sweaters and he looked like Victor Mature, if anybody remembers him. He was a muscular guy, you know, a handsome cat. 

And I just persisted, and you know, she had been through a smothering relationship and I had been through a semi-smothering relationship. So when we met, we didn't say, “Hi, I think we'll have lunch together, have a cup of coffee.” I said, “To hell with that, I don't have to call you on Sunday afternoon, or Friday night or something.” And she was just as reticent as I was, not to have control elements. Neither one of us enjoy control. And the worst thing about a marriage is that if you marry a person to try to control them, you will fail. You will fail. The people who say, “I'm gonna change this guy or this gal.” Give it up. 

Anyway, so she was teaching over in Cheyenne, and I was in law school and running back over the hill to Cheyenne. We were smooching one night behind the Allied Beverage outfit, or something, and I said, “What are you going to do this year?” She said, “Well, I've got a job offer in California and one in Cheyenne.” And I panicked. I mean, there was no semblance of sanity. But I didn't want to get married right then. And I said, “Now, Ann, I guess if you stayed in Cheyenne, maybe we could get married.” That was the proposal. 

Wendy Corr:

Oh, that was just so not romantic. 

Al Simpson:

And she was not ready to get married right then, either, but this was something worth thinking about. So we waited a year, and here we went. And then we went overseas, I was in ROTC, and I was stationed in Germany at the end of the Army of Occupation with the 112th armored infantry battalion of the second Armored Division. She was with me, she joined me, and we had a great time, no children. We said, “We're gonna wait on children until we see the world.” That's a good deal. We haven't got, there’s nothing to see on $300 bucks a month. 

But anyway, we saved our bucks, and we traveled all over Europe - Italy, and London, and Austria and France - on leave. And then when we got out of the military and got some resources, we often went back to an area around Paris. We love that. And we get an apartment and stay for a month. 

Anyway, those were wonderful times, then we had the three children, they are just a joy to us. And Bill is now 67. So we're 92, Bill is 67, Colin is 65, and Susie - she won't mind me saying that she's four years younger than Colin. 

Wendy Corr:

Oh, that's a good way to put it. Very good. 

Al Simpson:

They are our joy. We see them often. Can you imagine anything like living in Cody, having your three children and your grandchildren and your great grandchildren around you, and available to touch and feel and see?

Wendy Corr:

What a gift that is, very much so. Let's switch over to going to Washington DC - because you were in the Wyoming Legislature for a number of years before you ran for office to go to Washington DC. Tell us about making that decision, that you wanted to go for a national office in that way?

Al Simpson:

Well, I went to the state legislature in ‘65. And I was there for 13 years, and that's where I learned my craft. I learned how to be a member of the minority party and the majority party, and you're never going to learn anything until you have suffered in the minority. And yet knew how something worked and had people trust you. 

You’ve got people in both parties, in both Congress and here in Cheyenne, who are safe. Nobody's running against them. And they get pretty cocky and pretty nasty. And they get full of themselves and full of meanness, full of whatever, right? Anyway, I loved working with the other side.

I was always there as a legislator - I didn't want to administer. I couldn't be the governor of anything. I couldn’t administer my way out of a paper bag. But I love to legislate. I do the research, prepare the bills, go to the floor debate, save it from getting vetoed, get it on the law books. And I did that. And when I went back to Washington, it was the same thing. 

I then became the ranking member, the majority. And my three ranking members were Gary Hart, Al Cranston and Ted Kennedy. And I said to all three of them, don't use this committee for running for president. I won't have it. We will do the nation's business, and we'll trust each other. And we shake hands and they never - neither one of them ever broke a promise with me. Now, they might have broken promises with others. But that's not me. 

So I enjoyed working with the other side. You can't, unless you do, get out. Go be a zombie, if you hate Democrats or hate Republicans, this is stupid.

Wendy Corr:

That is something that you have always really championed, is working across the aisle, working with that other party. I'm going to kind of transition to current events here. That's something that is so missing. When did that change? Al, you've watched this, and you've been a part of this system for so long. When did that change?

Al Simpson:

I think it changed when the US House was under the control of the Democratic Party for 40 years. This is not a partisan statement. That was real. And I think that it was almost like a slave and a master relationship. The Democrats would have a hearing, and a Republican wandered in and said, “I’ve got an amendment there for that one, it’s a good one, here,” and a staff member will come up and grab and say, “say, it is a good one. I think I'll put the boss's name on that. And so you can stuff it.” And so you get tired of that. 

And then they began to come to the Senate. We'd watch them come to the Senate. Were they supercharged to get to the Senate? No, they wanted to get the hell out of the House. They want to get away from the slave and master relationship where they had 40 years of gettin’ stuffed in their nose. And they bring the venom with them, they brought the venom with them to the House. I always say to my divorce clients, “I know you're starting anew, but never haul the garbage to a new pit.”

Anyway, they would come over and slowly, they’d start to say, “Well, you don't visit with Bumpers of Arkansas, do you?” And I said, “Well, he’s a good friend of mine and tells some great stories.” And, “Well, yeah, but he's a Democrat.” I said, “I don’t give… a whatever.”

And then there's some guys who are about social issues. “Are you a baby killer? I mean, what the hell is that? And now you've got people who say that you should - a grown woman or even a child shall carry a person to term, who has been impregnated by their father, or their brother or their cousin. If that ain’t cruelty, I don't know what the hell it is. And I think that's a very deeply intimate and personal relationship, and hopefully with the person involved, or have a pastor or priest walk you through it, but it certainly doesn't have anything to do with the legislation of the United States of America. 

Because what's next? And then they hate queers, and lesbians and gays? There isn't a single person in the range of my voice that doesn't have somebody that they're related to, or they love, who is gay, lesbian or transgendered. Just put that in your book. Because I know people who prattle on in this party down there, in this hole where - they go to a church. I think they need to go to a new place for the Republican Party, church is a bad place for tolerance, understanding, and what would Jesus do? 

And you have to, it's appalling. And you find them leading the charge on abortion. And they're leading the charge on a cousin or a brother, who is one. It stinks of hypocrisy. 

One woman got up at the last meeting where I was heckled. I said, “I want to tell you something, Buster, shut up. I listened to you prattle on into the vapors, and shut up.” Two of them came up and apologized afterward, and I said, “Let's see, we're all treated equal, is that right? And inalienable rights and happiness and all the things that go with the constitutional directives? And yet, what do we do with the people who are - if we're all God's children - what do we do with the people that are lesbian or you know, marginalized or something?” And a woman got up as I finished and said, “Maybe God made a mistake.” And they were chuckling. There was a little bit of chuckling that went on with that. 

It's not a good place to be. If a young person was looking for a place to go into a party, you don't want to walk into that church over here, I can tell you that. You'll be savaged.

Wendy Corr:

You know, Al, the things that you say, that you've been heckled and things like that. You are the definition of outspoken, you are the definition of speaking your mind - but educated. Because again, you're 92 years old, you have seen it all. You have been in politics for so many years. At what point did you say, “You know what? I don't care about what people think of me anymore. I'm just gonna go ahead and say exactly what I think.” Have you always been that way, Al?

Al Simpson:

You know, I never thought of it as to, what people would think if I did that. I was thinking, “What will I really do down in my gut, instead of my head?” There were tough votes, you know. There was the Clarence Thomas hearing. People come up to me and say, “You're the guy that saved Clarence Thomas.” Well, I did. But, you know, I made mistakes along the line. And I was rated the third most conservative senator, in my 18 years, and here I've been tossed out of the party as a RINO. You gotta keep your head around this joint.

Wendy Corr:

Tell me about that. Because you've just laid it out. Tell us about getting tossed out of your own party in Park County.

Al Simpson:

Well, they have a new rule. And I know the people that put it together, because they're zealots. A zealot is a person who, having forgotten his purpose, redoubles his efforts. 

There are two women in there that wanted to get this little thing, if you've missed 3 meetings, you get tossed out on your can. There is no such thing in the law that provides that for death, or resignation, that has anything to do with doing three meetings. So they tried it, and they failed. And so the stuff is probably in litigation - and I'm not part of a firm that's doing anything with that. But they’ll say, “No, it’s a conflict of interest, you have a law firm.” But I said, that isn't the point. The point is, it’s not one of the reasons that you throw a guy out of the party. 

So I've been called everything. I mean, I've had people in this county, who when I reach out to shake their hand, they put their hand behind their back. I said, “You know, pal, that has never happened to me in a whole lifetime of politics or personal relationships.” And he didn't even say anything. And then a woman came up and said, “Just leave him alone. You’re picking on him.” I said, “What the hell kind of a nut house is this?”

And that's what goes on here. And I'm gonna run for precinct committeeman in this district. And if I get beat, it wouldn't be the first time I've ever been beat. And then I'll go back to the meetings. And I might go - we meet once a month. There isn’t a Republican Party in Wyoming that meets once a month. They will get together to torture each other, and then talk about other people and what they can do to them, or how they can rough up their lives. And I’ll talk about freedom every time. Freedom, freedom. Forget freedom. They want you in, you're either with them or you're against them.

And the legislators have little tablets in front of them as to what the state chairman is telling them to vote on an issue. And some of them don't even know what the issue is, they've never read a bill. They're like zombies. Send a zombie to Cheyenne. Or else send somebody that can answer your question when you put a hard one to them. Say, “What the hell are you doing with this piece of legislation? What is this about? It’s punitive, it’s petty, it’s social gandering. It's against somebody's life, or freedom or happiness.” Pursuit of happiness doesn't have anything to do with the Republican Party.

Wendy Corr:

Well, Al, that has changed. Your Republican Party, Al, has changed over the years. But there's got to be a bright spot in here someplace. What do you see in the future that's hopeful? What's hopeful about the future?

Al Simpson:

Well, I think it's the ballot box. It will never be with bullets in America, it will be with the ballot box. And it will come, probably - I don't know how I'll hang around, but I want to be around if I can. In 2034, the biggest system in the United States, Social Security, will drop 23%. Period. And there isn’t anything you can do about it, or I can do about it, because the money coming in does not cover the money going out. And was it Al Gore that said there was a lockbox? The only lockbox is in some great Boogieland. 

But anyway. So what do we do about that? Do they talk about that with the Republican Committee? How about you stabilize the Social Security system? And there are ways to do that, changing the rates, at the end point, there’s some technical stuff you could do, which is what Erskine Bowles and I were suggesting in our proposal.

And then the Medicare trust fund will take a hit in 2026. This is 2024. And, why will it take a hit? Because a guy could have a heart operation, who could own half the town, and never get a bill for $250,000 bucks. Who is kidding who? 

So why not deal with the issues of America? The debt - what are you going to do about the debt? Are you going to stabilize Social Security? And then they'll throw it back, saying “You hate seniors.” That's what you do. Boy, Boo-Hoo.

And veterans. Now look, I'm a veteran. I was at the end of the War of Occupation of World War Two. And there are people who have never been outside of Camp Beetle Bailey, and don't know a mortar tube from either end, who draw all the benefits of this country. I say, give the combat veteran or somebody in a combat theater, anything they need. But for God's sake, don't start heaping stuff on people that… hell, only 6% of us were ever in combat. Or they wear a hat, you know, that says “I’m A Wizard” or something. It's tiresome to watch, and they're fake. And I've taken them on, I’ve said, you know, “Don't give me that sob story about being in the military and being a veteran when you were in a headquarters company in Fort Dix, or you never left Camp Ord.”

Anyway. So you get in trouble, they say you hate veterans, you hate old people, hate them senior citizens. I guess you could say you hate agriculture. There are people who are serving in Wyoming’s legislature, who will go back to any tax in Park County, who draw big bucks from crop subsidies out on the flat out there. And that's public money, don't forget, you can look it up. Just get yourself the thing about farm subsidies, Park County, Wyoming, the two districts of the zip code, and see who's knocking everything about anything taxes - while they're getting stuff and trying to beat out that huge tax when they buy a tractor in Billings. I mean, give me a break.

Wendy Cor:

Al, you have got an opinion and a view, and an educated opinion, on everything. And I think that it's fantastic. And we want you to continue - please, continue to tell us your thoughts, because you have experienced it. And you've got a wonderful, really great point of view, and we're grateful that we have had your experience, and we've had your personality that has represented Wyoming and that's commented on Wyoming, and that's been a part of the big picture in Washington DC for so long. 

We only have a few minutes left, Al, but I want to hear about your friendship with George Bush, because I know that you and Ann, and George and Barbara, were great friends. 

Al Simpson:

I just want to add one touch there. I believe - and I believe to this 92nd year - that I'm an American first, instead of a Republican first or a Democrat first. Where did we get that? Or that as a veteran that you went for the benefits instead of for your country? Were you a Patriot or were you just looking to get a green check for the rest of your life by dismembering yourself?

So enough of that. George Bush. When the folks went back to Washington, they had a home, they found a home - and dad had Parkinson's and was arthritic, you know, he had rheumatoid arthritis. And he ran for an unexpired term - when Keith Thompson was elected and died before he was sworn in, then Joe Hickey, the governor then, appointed himself as governor and for Senate, and then dad ran against Joe, they were all friends and they were very kind to us. Anyway, to make it short. So whatever your question was…? Where did you want to go?

Wendy Corr:

(laughing) I wanted to ask about your friendship with George and Barbara. 

Al Simpson:

So when the folks sold their home, a guy showed up from Texas, a Congressman, his name was George Bush. They said the Simpsons have a home there, and they've got extra rooms, their children didn't come. So, dad took over George's father's office in the Senate. Prescott Bush retired. Dad took me to Washington to meet with the new senators, and that's where I met George Bush, with his father, packing up his stuff to get out, while I'm putting pops in. And so it started there. 

And then through the years, there are pictures all over this place, but we had a great friendship. When he was vice president, we went to Glacier Park with them for about four or five days. When they were out of office, we took a tour with them to Greece. They were very dear. 

And when they were in vice presidency and the presidency, we were privileged people to be in the White House, private dinners. I remember during the Gulf War when they were protesting out in Lafayette Park, and George looked out the window - we could see the park from the dining area - he said, “Don't they know that I don't want war? I've been in war. I was picked out of the water after my plane crashed.” And he was a war hero - but then he pulled the trigger on Saddam Hussein. And then he took the hand off the trigger, because all these people are running back in there, torn up, with tanks and stuff, saying, “Viva la George Bush, George Bush.” And George said, “Wait a minute. Pull back. Don't follow them into Baghdad, these people are just sitting ducks.” And they were, they were just blowing them up and they were trying to get back. They fled, they were all cowards, because Dick Cheney pulled the train on them, and turned off the forces of the Furies of America. And in 13 days, they tore them all to bits, and they were headed back, shrieking and crying. 

And so people said, “George Bush should have gone back there and taken him out at Baghdad.” Well, he didn't, and then other things happened. But no, George Bush was a humanitarian. He was probably the most kind and gentle man I ever knew. And he lived with the code, “What would we do without family and friends.”

And he loved music and he loved golf. I never got into that one, but tennis and volleyball and just conviviality. And Barbara and Ann were very special, because neither one of them could fake the other one out. And they saw that there was not anything to do but Barbara accept Ann. And they became very, very close. Too close. George and I would just walk away from a game of rummy cube and say, “Let them fight it out.” It was a lot of fun, they were fun.

Wendy Corr:

You have had some amazing adventures, and you have had some amazing friendships, and you have made your mark on this state of Wyoming that you love so much. And Al Simpson, we are grateful for you and for all of the service that you have given us.

Al Simpson:

Let me tell you a fun thing I did - it was at Harvard, I couldn't have gotten into Harvard if I picked the locks. I couldn't get in there. But John Williams called one day, and I was teaching, and he said, “I'd like you to narrate ‘Peter and The Wolf’ with the Boston Symphony.” And I said, “I don't think I do that. I'm pretty nervous about teaching. I've never taught anything at all.” He said, “Well, I'll call you someday.” So John Williams of Star Wars fame called me for the 70th anniversary at Rochester School of Music, and gave me this thing he had done called “The Reivers” by Faulkner. So I did that there. It got so good that we went to the Chicago Symphony and did it for two nights. We did it to the Boston Symphony for two nights, and the Kennedy Center, and that was a joy. And I narrated “The Reivers,” about a 20 minute thing. And those are the fun things we've done since we got out. 

I know you're on the timetable here.

Wendy Corr:

That is a great story. I had no idea that John Williams, the great composer John Williams, had asked you to do that.

Al Simpson:

A dear, dear friend, he came to be. 

Wendy Corr:

That’s phenomenal. Al, you have so many stories, and there's no way that we can get to all these stories. But I want to thank you for sharing the stories that you have with us today on The Roundup. 

Al, you are a busy guy. I mean, we've had to work around your schedule, because even at 92 you are still in demand, you're still doing zoom calls, you're still doing interviews. What's next for you? 

Al Simpson:

Well, in a half hour, I'll do something at a public policy thing in South Carolina for an hour with students. I do lots of things with civility in government, and with the Simpson-Mineta library at Heart Mountain, which will be completed and ready for occupancy in July. $12 million to talk about racism and civility instead of raucous revenge and retribution. You got some big problems in River City. 

Anyway, it's a pleasure. I’ve been around you since, well, you weren't a little girl. 

Wendy Corr:

No, we've known each other for a long time, you and Ann are dear people, and you are truly Cody royalty - and we are grateful to have you. Al, thank you for your time today and for giving us your opinions and your experiences on Cowboy State Daily’s The Roundup.

Al Simpson:

You're very kind, very dear. And thank you so much.

Wendy Corr:

Thank you - and folks, thank you for tuning in to The Roundup. We've had a wonderful conversation with Al Simpson today, we've got more really great conversations to come, so tune in every week to The Roundup. You'll find us right here! And thank you for your time. Have a great week. 

Al Simpson:

Thank you, Wendy. 

Share this article

Authors

WC

Wendy Corr

Features Reporter