SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE
The workday begins pretty early these days for House Speaker Mark Simmons as the Legislature continues in full swing.
The Elgin Republican hurries from his rented home in South Salem to the Capitol for a 7:30 a.m. caucus, followed by a round of appointments with other legislators, lobbyists, staff members and a few visiting constituents.
At 8:30, while the maintenance man is still working among the tall firs and blooming cherry trees on the Capitol grounds, hes meeting in his second-floor office with House Majority Leader Karen Minnis of Wood Village to discuss other caucus items.
Some days, Simmons is meeting at this hour with such groups as veterans or senior citizens on the Capitol steps. This day, by 9 a.m., the speaker is being given his daily press briefing by Trish Conrad, his director of communications. She has scanned the major newspapers of the state and delivers good and bad tidings from news and editorial pages.
Other staff members, of which there are seven, interrupt at various times. Harvey Mathews, the speakers legislative director, reports on where certain bills are in the legislative process. Duane Bales, a former aide to Bob Smith when he was in Congress, deals with statewide correspondence, works on constituent issues, special projects and research.
By this date, the deadline for introducing bills has passed, Simmons said, except that each member still has two priority bills he can have drafted unless I tell him otherwise.
Christine Drazan, who worked for Ray Baum when Baum was in the Legislature, serves as Simmons chief of staff and updates him on a number of issues. Sarah Bastain, the scheduler, has a few minutes. Logistics have to be worked out on getting some legislators to a meeting in Central Oregon.
At 9:45 a.m. Medford Rep. Rob Patridge pops in to talk about what will occur on the floor of the House when it convenes at 11 a.m. The two discuss what votes are lined up for what bills. Patridge, a former deputy district attorney in Jackson County, has just learned he is among the final three being considered for a federal judgeship.
As speaker, Simmons has no committee assignments, but said, I work closely with all the chairmen on how things are going in the committees and offer support in managing things that are important to them and to me.
During the morning, Simmons squeezes in brief meetings with various lobbyists and representatives of the House and of various state departments, most seeking funding or passage of legislation.
I just need five minutes, one lobbyist tells receptionist Diane Highberger.
Simmons tells a lobbyist his bill is a great idea; I like it.
Later he said, I get a tremendous amount of lobbying from (registered) lobbyists, both Democrat and Republican House and Senate members. They all lobby me.
Im here by 7 a.m. and dont get home till dark. Then I work some more at home. Im here on Saturday and Sunday.
On dealing with lobbyists, he said, Sometimes its a tough call. But I try to be up front with them.
His answer is an intuitive thing. I have to consider how a proposal fits with public policy, what changes it would make. How much it would cost. Its always a judgment call.
At 11 a.m. the House went into session, 30 minutes later than usual, because a short session was expected, but Simmons was not at the podium.
Ive instituted a plan whereby various members can serve as speaker for the day. They preside over the session; that gives them the experience and I can do other things during that time, Simmons said.
On this day, the Oregon Blue Book, the official state book listing of all agencies, departments, elected state officials, counties, cities, and containing a wealth of other information, has arrived and Simmons takes the floor to acknowledge that one of his constituents, Circuit Court Judge Eric Valentine, has provided the photos for the cover and the back of the book. He recognizes Valentine and poses with him for photos.
Before noon, the House session is over for the day, and Simmons meets with other groups, eating lunch during the meeting from a tray.
After lunch, there are more strategy meetings, first in the Senate Presidents office at the other end of the building. Then its back to the speakers office, where Rep. Bill Witt, R-Cedar Mill, and Don McIntire strategize with Simmons on such things as how to control growth in government and how to lower the tax on a fine cigar.
The meeting goes past 2:45 and staff members are poking their heads in the door to let Simmons know hes running behind schedule.
OYA Director Karen Brazean gets a few minutes with Simmons, explaining it will take $4.3 million to get the Hilgard boot camp running and that it likely wont happen until the end of the next biennium, if then. Its not in the budget now.
During the time crunch that goes on all day, there are a few short minutes for others, including Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Hansell and lobbyist Ralph Groaner. Then, Union County Commissioner Steve McClure, in the Capitol to testify before two committees, drops in.
This day ends a little early for Simmons after 4 p.m., unless you want to count the drive to La Grande that night for a town hall meeting the next day.
Its all in a days work for the speaker.
Story and photo by Ray Linker