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When Speaker of the House Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, decided not to seek re-election, the door didn't swing open to all comers for the Republican primary in the spring, but instead it appeared that Simmons handed his seat to Greg Smith, serving as a freshman representative in the adjoining District 59.

Redistricting had placed Union, Wallowa, Morrow counties and a portion of Umatilla County in District 57, allowing Smith, a Heppner Republican, to jump into the race. The process by which Simmons waited until the absolute last second at first looked like backroom politics at its worst, with the three-term representative introducing Smith as his would-be successor in Northeast Oregon.

WHAT HAS BEEN apparent from the beginning, however, is the lack of support by Simmons for Smith's candidacy. And what has been apparent to us as well is the lack of character that Rep. Smith has displayed during his first term in office.

Most everyone is aware of Smith's brush with police officers in Salem on Sept. 12, when Smith was cited for traveling 41 mph in a 20-mph school zone as he was heading for an 11 a.m. meeting at the Capitol.

Smith's decision to try and use an obscure constitutional law to keep from getting the speeding ticket is secondary to his disregard for the importance of vehicles slowing down in school zones to keep children safe. His approach to this incident when it went public was one of making excuses and blaming others. He could have told his legislative counterparts that he would be late for the meeting since it would be better to drive safely through town.

COMPOUNDING THAT situation is a similar tactic by Smith in Hood River in May 2001 when he was cited after driving through a stop sign. He spoke rudely to the officer and tried to use his business card or credentials to get out of the ticket. The Hood River police chief said, "... In my opinion, an elected official (Smith) should be held to a higher standard than the average citizen."

If these incidents don't speak volumes about Smith, then the charge of harassment against him involving the severe spanking of one of his minor sons and the command from the court to go through counseling should make voters question Smith's ability to effectively represent the citizens of District 57.

We were dismayed that the Republican Party didn't offer voters a number of strong and able candidates in the May primary. We can think of numerous individuals who could serve District 57 with distinction and make sure that the interests of Union and Wallowa counties are met.

SO WHY DIDN'T the Republicans have an open primary and a number of good choices? We would ask the same of the Democratic Party. For years the Democrats have put up weak candidates. Why? The current Democratic candidate, Elizabeth Scheeler from near Pendleton, has a good heart and is an ardent supporter of education. But Scheeler has made it clear that she would be a one-term representative.

We find the character of Smith to be lacking and Scheeler's lack of a commitment and naivet on some issues to be a cause for concern. In spite of that, The Observer recommends Scheeler as the better candidate in Tuesday's election.

As for Smith, it is hard to call him a state lawmaker, given his sometimes disregard for the laws of Oregon. Party officials on both sides simply must do better in the future to provide citizens with strong candidates.


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