April 03, 2002 11:00 pm

From AP and local reports

Oregon House Speaker Mark Simmons of Elgin has been hired by the Oregon Association of Nurserymen to be the industry groups director of public affairs.

Simmons, who announced the day before the filing deadline in March he would not seek re-election, will begin his new duties April 15 with the association, which represents more than 1,400 wholesale growers, retailers, landscapers and suppliers.

The nursery and greenhouse industry has emerged as a major economic engine in Oregons Willamette Valley and the hiring of Mark Simmons signals the industrys growing political clout, said John Aguirre, the groups executive director.

Simmons will continue to serve as House speaker after taking his new job, but he will not lobby fellow lawmakers or state officials on the associations behalf during the remainder of his term, which ends in January, the group said.

The Oregon Association of Nurserymen is a great organization representing a successful and growing industry, Simmons said. My experience with grassroots political action and my history with natural resource policy issues makes for a great fit with the OAN.

The Elgin Republican was first elected to the House in 1996 and he was elevated to the House speakers post for the 2001 legislative session. He represents Union and Wallowa Counties and a portion of Umatilla County.

Simmons previously worked for Boise Corp., where he was employed for 25 years.