March 27, 2001 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

SALEM Term limits have caught up with and ousted many legislators during the recent sessions of the Oregon Legislature.

The 1992 law restricts terms to six years in the House or eight in the Senate.

Its inevitable that it will happen to Mark Simmons, the Republican from Elgin, who is serving this session as speaker of the House. Its his third term in the House.

My term has 18 months to play out and I will be involved in helping get Republicans elected at various levels, he said one day last week in Salem.

But I have no stars in my eyes about running for governor. Thats not on my radar screen, he said from the speakers office during a break between various meetings with fellow Republicans, staff members and lobbyists.

Part of that decision is an eastern/western thing, Simmons said, referring to the fact a larger number of voters are on the west side of the state and would favor a westerner over a person from Eastern Oregon.

Another factor, he said, is I would have to count on two more years of hard campaigning.

He would not say exactly what the future holds for him and his family. It could involve remaining in Salem in some capacity, he hinted. He did not mention any federal elective office.

Already in the running for governor are Democrats Jim Hill, former state treasurer, and former Multnomah County Commission chair Bev Stein; and Republicans Craig Berkman of Portland, Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts and Portland School Board member Ron Saxton.

Simmons, 44, and his wife, Joni, have rented a house in Salem south of the Capitol. His wife is working in his office part-time, doing constituent work. After all, he said, she is familiar with residents of his district, which includes all of Union and Wallowa counties and part of Umatilla County.

They have two children, Holly, who is now enrolled as a sophomore at Salems Sprague High School, and Lindy, a freshman at Oregon State University.

Simmons is a former heavy equipment mechanic for Boise Cascade in Elgin and a representative of Northwest Timber Workers Resource.

The next 18 months have to play themselves out, he said, figuring this session of the Legislature will end by mid-June.

Im just a shy guy who happens to be speaker. Im privileged to have come this far. Im just trying to do the best job that I can do.

His priorities, he said, are to get the states $12 billion budget passed, including funding for a new science building at Eastern Oregon University. He said he would continue to try to secure funding for the Oregon Youth Authority boot camp at Hilgard.

He is pushing his own legislation, such as a cougar bill, which has passed the House and is now in the Senate. He wants to see a war memorial on the state Capitol grounds, and he is promoting some very important privacy legislation dealing with DNA as it relates to crimes.