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January 13, 2009 4:16 am

Simpson returns to Legislature as speaker of the House

Written by Tribune Staff

By now, the drive between Cody and Cheyenne is a familiar one for Colin Simpson.

But there was a difference when he made the familiar drive last week: He was on his way to perform his first duties as speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives as he began his 11th year in the Legislature.

The session begins in Cheyenne today (Tuesday).

The last speaker of the House from Park County was Marlin Kurtz in 1963.

Simpson's history of legislative service follows the path set by his father, retired U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, and coincides with the history of Colin Simpson's own family.

Simpson and his wife, Debbie, were married in June 1998, five months before he was elected to his seat in the House. Simpson's first term began in January 1999, and Debbie served as the press liaison for the Republican party during the Legislature that year.

Their oldest son, Mac, 9, was born in July 1999, and Mac was joined two years later by Nic, 7.

For the first nine years, Simpson rarely returned to Cody during the Legislature, as his family joined him in a rented house in Cheyenne.

“There was one session that we brought the two dogs, the lizard, the cat, the kids and a horse, too,” Simpson said with a chuckle during a telephone interview on Friday. “We had it all.”

With the boys getting older, the Simpsons made the decision last year that Debbie and the boys would remain in Cody during Legislature.

“Mac has third-grade PAWS testing, and both boys have activities, so it's best for them to be home,” Simpson said.

“We had wonderful experiences in Cheyenne, but that's tough on them in some ways, too. It's the sacrifices we're willing to make to allow me to participate in the Legislature.”

The family's two-month separation will be alleviated by visits to Cheyenne for Debbie and the boys and by Simpson's occasional return home for a weekend.

“I'm sure I'll be home more this session, but sometimes it's a little dangerous to travel when you're overtired. If the weather is bad, or you're too tired, or it's too late, you don't want to leave.”

He noted it is much more difficult for lawmakers from this part of the state to return home on the weekends than it is for those from Cheyenne, Laramie or Casper.

Simpson said his family deals with his absences “as best they can.”

“The boys are involved in hockey and basketball, and that keeps them busy. My wife, Debbie, is very supportive of my efforts, and she does what she can to make it happen.

“It's not always easy,” he added. “It's hard to be away from home. That's the reason I wanted them to come with me (during earlier sessions). I didn't want to miss them and their time growing up.”

Simpson said 2010 will be his last year as House speaker — and in the Legislature. While some former House speakers have moved on to the Senate, “I don't plan to do that,” he said.

“I think 12 years is enough,” he said. “Then it will be time to give someone else a chance.

“Right now, I'm just focusing on being speaker of the House. After that, I will analyze what opportunities are out there. I just would like to thank Park County for allowing me to participate in the Legislature.”

Simpson encouraged his constituents to contact him with opinions or concerns.

Those contacts and opinions are important, he said.

“I believe that, as legislative representatives, we offer our constituents a connection to government that may be their only real point of access, and we can give them the opportunity, not only to express their views, but also to be heard. Our job is to help constituents with individual items and answer any questions they may have.

“The Legislature does care what its constituents believe, and we do listen, and frequently act on what we hear. Their voices matter a great deal,” he said.