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September 18th, 2002 | Rogue of the Week
 

Mark Simmons

     
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illustration by matt robinson
What part of "conflict of interest" doesn't he understand?

Earlier this year, Oregon Speaker of the House Mark Simmons scurried over the wall separating lobbyists and legislators when he accepted a job as director of public affairs for the Oregon Association of Nurserymen. Now, he's taken out a bulldozer to knock the wall down.

Simmons isn't the only person to go from lawmaker to lobbyist, but he's believed to be the first one to start his new job while still a legislator. At the time, he promised not to do any lobbying for the nursery industry until his term expired in January--a vow he seems to have broken.

WW has talked to three state lawmakers who recently traveled to Silverton to appear before the OAN board to seek the group's endorsement. Both of them reported that Simmons was seated at the table.

Even more troubling is the fact that during the current special session, six of Simmons' fellow GOP House members have received contributions from Simmons' new employer, ranging from $500 to $2,000.

That means that for the past two weeks, while Simmons has been trying to gain support for his revenue plan, he's been in a position to put money and endorsements in the pockets of colleagues who are voting on the proposal.

Simmons did not return calls from WW, so we don't know what he was thinking. He may feel that he's able to separate his two roles. Or, as they say in the nursery biz, he may simply be a few bushes shy of a full load.

Either way, Simmons has emerged as the poster boy for the effort to stop the revolving door in Salem. In recent years, several bills have proposed a mandatory break between the time a lawmaker ends elective service and when he or she begins a new job as a hired gun. (The most recent, authored by state Rep. Mark Haas, would require a two-year break.) Such a law would not only restore the wall Simmons has crushed, but make it stronger.

 
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