March 14, 2002 11:00 pm

Many political observers remember the days when a select group of city or county bosses would get together in a smoke-filled room and decide who would run for elected offices. Often the selected candidates would be in the pocket of the political organization that selected them, returning favors to the ones who got them elected. Former President Harry S. Truman got his start in politics in the 1930s that way. But once he moved on to higher office, Truman disavowed the practice.

The mockery of the democratic way of government appeared to be gone for much of the last half of the 20th century, but seems to be rearing its ugly head again, at least here in Union County. This past Tuesday, Speaker of the House Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, waited until the last possible moment to formally announce that he would not seek re-election within the newly created District 57. Instead, he decided to anoint State Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, to fill his vacated seat. Smith, who had represented a large district, was one of the casualties of the redistricting process that was completed this year due to census changes.

This action by Simmons and Smith means that there will be no real opportunity for the voters in this district to compare who would really be the best Republican candidate to represent Union and neighboring Wallowa counties in the Legislature. Since this has been a Republican-held seat for three decades, Smith will most likely be our next representative. This approach to fixing elections is little more than what took place in the old days when political machines and bosses decided what was best for the electorate. We find that offensive.

The effect will be that Union and Wallowa counties will be without a true state representative for the first time in more than two decades. Simmons decision to announce at the last minute he wont run for re-election left out the possibility that anyone from Union or Wallowa counties would have time to meet the filing deadline that occurred on Tuesday. His decision has left a void that wont be filled during the upcoming election cycle. Potential candidates knew that Simmons was toying with seeking a fourth term, and that would discourage others from taking on the House speaker.

We are disappointed that Simmons, who has worked tirelessly for residents of Union and Wallowa counties, has decided that an outsider to the area would be better than allowing other would-be political candidates from Union and Wallowa counties surface and run for office.

Now voters in our part of the district will be left making a decision between two Columbia Basin candidates, the Republican Smith from Heppner and Elizabeth Scheeler, a Democrat from Pendleton.

Hopefully two years from now Union and Wallowa Counties will have one of their own candidates on the May primary ballot. For now, it appears that our counties, which were well served by Simmons, will lose their voice in Salem.