March 06, 2002 11:00 pm

A few years ago Mark Simmons seemed like he would be like a fish out of water in Salem. But Simmons won election as Ray Baums successor in the Oregon House of Representatives and managed to find his way around the hallowed halls of the Capitol. In a short time he became a political force to be reckoned with, climbing to majority leader in his second term and speaker of the House in his third.

Over the course of his three terms Simmons has served his district well and performed admirably as speaker in spite of the trying times that the downturned economy have thrown Oregons way recently. The district and the Legislature would benefit from Simmons experience should he decide to seek a fourth term. He should run again. With a new governor taking over next year, the state could use some continuity.

The state hasnt had much continuity in leadership for the past several years. Term limits kept booting out legislators about the time they got a feel for how to make the system work in Salem and for citizens. But the Supreme Court recently changed the playing field by declaring the term limits law unconstitutional, opening the way for Simmons and others who have acquired some institutional memory and skills to consider another run.

Simmons isnt sure thats what he will do. On Tuesday he told The Observer he was still debating whether to seek another term, and in fact said he was leaning against running and giving some consideration to putting his political skills to use in another arena. But with a March 12 filing deadline looming, he said he would be announcing his decision within a couple of days. Time away from home and family, he said, not the pressures of the position or the states budget crisis, were weighing heavily on his mind.

Being a state representative isnt easy. The pay is lousy, the pressure immense. And for anyone whose home is more than a few hours away from Salem, the time away from home is enormous. Its easy to understand why Simmons would be vacillating about whether to go for another round.

But he might find, were he to give it another term, that effecting change on behalf of his district and the state would be easier the next time around. Simmons knows his way around the Capitol. Hes learned how to lead. And hes learned how to work with different people and varied interests. If he doesnt seek another term, that learning curve would go for naught. Someone else would have to start at ground zero. The district and the state would be the losers.

The Observer hasnt always agreed with Simmons on issues. But the issue at hand isnt about political issues, its about experience. It would be difficult to dispute Simmons effectiveness as a legislator and a leader. He has benefited Northeast Oregon. His experience and effectiveness would be missed locally and in Salem.