April 15, 2001 11:00 pm

Its less than two years away, but a lot of people are talking about running for governor. The best known candidates to announce are Republican Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts and former state treasurer Jim Hill, a Democrat. Both have won statewide races and have some name recognition.

Several other less known people are talking about running, but none of them have much name recognition outside their current county or city.

A couple of names have been mentioned from the east side of Oregon including current House Speaker Mark Simmons. The Republican from Elgin for the most part only smiles when asked about running for the states top spot. A couple of weeks ago, Simmons, along with Rep. Bob Jensen, R-Pendleton, and Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, were meeting the public at the Grande Ronde Retirement Residence when Jensen told those in attendance that they should urge Simmons to run for governor.

Simmons, who will be forced by the term-limit law from being in the House in two years, hasnt said what he plans to do. Still young and getting his feet more firmly planted in the political arena, he could consider several options. He could continue working for Boise Cascade, become a lobbyist or consider a higher political post.

Even though it would be great to have a governor who originated from east of the Cascade Range, we doubt Simmons is in a position to make a serious shot at the states top position right now. What we do think is that he could make a run for one of the other statewide posts. Someone will have to replace Jack Roberts. Why not Simmons?

Labor commissioner hasnt been the normal jumping-off position to become governor, but it could become just that. Running for this position would allow Simmons to spend considerably less money on a statewide campaign and take less time raising funds.

Simmons background would make him a potentially strong labor commissioner since he has been a union representative at the Elgin Boise Cascade plant. He has made lots of connections while serving for four years in the Legislature and as speaker of the House.

And if Simmons were to be successful in winning such a statewide position, he could get better known and eventually run for the top spot if that was his desire.