Smith headed back to Washington

Former Senator Gordon Smith speaks candidly during an informal interview at his home last week in Pendleton. <br><I>Staff Photo by Brenna E. Chapman

When the East Oregonian interviewed former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith a week ago, he hinted he was considering a variety of options including both the practice of law and becoming reconnected with the family business, Smith Frozen Foods.

During the close of the interview his wife, Sharon, suggested an important job offer was on the horizon but her husband wasn't quite ready to disclose the details of that possibility.

A week later, it's final - the two-term U.S. senator is returning to the nation's capital to work for a leading law firm - Covington & Burling, with a focus on international trade and foreign relations.

"This offer was extremely appealing to me," said Smith this week, "because some of my loves in the Senate were foreign relations and international trade and obviously policy development, and those are things which I know very well and hope to be able to use to the advantage of the firm."

Smith, 56, is barred from lobbying his former colleagues for two years, but can offer strategic advice to clients.

Smith, who hasn't been directly involved in the frozen foods business since he was elected to the Senate, said he will work at the law firm between two-thirds and three-quarters of his time.

Sen. Smith said since leaving the Senate his dance card was getting very full, very fast. He said he will also serve on a corporate board and a charitable board.

In reflecting on his two terms in the Senate, Smith said he loved federal issues and the importance of his work in Washington, D. C., a place he has enjoyed since childhood.

"I caught my first case of Potomac fever as an 8-year-old boy at the Kennedy inauguration," he said.

Smith's father Milan had moved his young family to Bethesda, Md. in 1954, to take a job as assistant secretary of agriculture under Eisenhower. His son was two at the time. Later, the family stayed in Washington when his dad took a job with a major trade association.

Though Smith hasn't ruled out running for office next year, he acknowledged that taking a job in Washington D.C. could be taken as a sign that the open race for governor and a challenge of Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., are not in his plans.

Still, he left the political door open, if only slightly.

"I may again hear that call someday to run for office," he said.

Oregon Republican Chairman Bob Tiernan said he would like to see Smith take on Wyden.

"He doesn't have it out of his system yet," Tiernan said of Smith and the Senate.

Wyden narrowly beat Smith in a special election to replace Bob Packwood in 1996. Smith came back later that year to win the seat that opened with the retirement of Mark Hatfield.

But beating Wyden in 2010 would be a major upset, given that Wyden remains popular and Democrats have been dominating statewide races in recent elections.

Smith, who was scheduled to be out of town for a month, was unavailable for further comment.

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