Growing up in a small town near North Carolina's Outer Banks, Rex Simmons got a close-up look at public service when his father served on his town's Board of Aldermen.
But years later, as a federal-government employee, Simmons wasn't allowed to participate in partisan politics. Now, though, he's retired and is actively campaigning to unseat Republican incumbent Tim Hugo as the 40th District delegate. And his supporters are delighted.
"REX IS AN ethical and forthright budget guy who's going to bring a common-sense approach to representing the individuals in this district," said Sue Conrad of Clifton. "He's concerned about maintaining a high-level of educational quality, combating crime and maintaining the quality of life here."
Simmons, 56, of Fairfax Station, obtained a bachelors in political science in 1973 from UNC, Chapel Hill, and a masters in public administration in 1975 from American University. He and his wife Nancy met at UNC and have been married 32 years. Son Andy, 24, runs an automobile technologies business in Fredericksburg, and daughter Emily, 20, is a sophomore at Penn State.
In 1975, Simmons began working for what's now called the Government Accountability Office (GAO) — a congressional watchdog organization — as an auditor. And he rose through the ranks into management.
"I audited lots of government programs, looking for government waste and trying to make government more effective," he explained. "And from 1980 through 1990, I worked on a team at GAO to establish Offices of the Inspector General throughout the federal government and in major offices and agencies."
In 1990, Simmons became the assistant inspector general, auditing the activities of the Resolution Trust Corp. — which was established to clean up the savings-and-loan crisis. Again, he looked for financial waste, fraud and mismanagement.
He did that until late 1995 when the RTC ended and he became an assistant inspector general with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., a bank regulatory agency. He held that post until this January, when he retired. (Nancy also retired this year, as a GAO auditor).
So, said Simmons, with 32 years of federal service "making government more economical, efficient and effective," he decided to enter politics. And in June, he won the Democratic primary against Morris Meyer, with 62 percent of the votes.
"Throughout my government career, I worked with people from both political parties to find solutions to problems," said Simmons. "And all three inspector generals — two Republican and one Democrat — are backing my campaign."
ACTUALLY, said Simmons, Hugo is responsible for his decision to retire early so he could run against him. After seeing his morning commute escalate over the years, from 45 to 90 minutes, he wrote to Hugo three times last year, asking his plans to ease the gridlock.
Simmons received a phone message to call Hugo's office, but never connected with him. So, he said, "I began to look at how Hugo had voted in the General Assembly, and he'd opposed every transportation plan that had come forward."
"After his five years in office, I didn't see that he'd done anything to fix that traffic mess and, in fact, it had gotten worse," continued Simmons. "I didn't feel he was best representing our interests. I talked to friends and people in the Democratic Party and in our community, and I got encouragement to run [against Hugo]. So I moved up my retirement date, a few months, so I could run in the primary."
Until then, Simmons had planned to travel or maybe work on his doctorate. "But I saw too much partisan game-playing in the General Assembly and not enough smart legislating," he said. "And, of course, it's a Republican-led General Assembly."
So now, he's knocking on doors and sharing his platform with voters, and he says their No. 1 complaint is traffic. "The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority may work out, but it doesn't have a transportation expert in its members — who are elected officials and some political appointees," said Simmons. "And we don't know how well this group can come together and accomplish something regionwide."
But, he said, it's "important to maintain this region's economic prosperity, and traffic gridlock affects our quality of life. So I've called for Metro to be extended to Centreville and on to Manassas."
Simmons also believes in investing in public education "to give our children the educational foundation they need to succeed in the 21st century." Both his children were educated in the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) system, and he and his wife were involved in a wealth of school, Scouting and youth sports activities. So, he said, "I think it's important to have a delegate with that firsthand experience with the school system."
HE ALSO believes a college education should be affordable and available to Virginia residents. "Tuition is getting out of sight and putting college out of reach for many families, and we've got to address it and hold down those costs," said Simmons. "Northern Virginia children are being denied admission to many of our colleges and universities — especially Virginia Tech, William & Mary and UVA — because so many out-of-state students are admitted to make up for funding shortfalls."
He said a way must also be found to fund Gov. Kaine's initiative in early-childhood education because "children who go to preschool are more likely to go to college and succeed in life. And it's important to level the playing field for our lower-income families so they have this same opportunity."
Simmons' FCPS involvement won him endorsements from Kaine, former Gov. Mark Warner and the Fairfax Federation of Teachers. He's also endorsed by the Virginia AFL-CIO, the Fairfax Central Labor Council and the Fairfax Professional Firefighters Assn. "because of the importance I put on helping working people."
He also hopes to address the quality and affordability of health care because 1 in 7 Virginians don't have health insurance and "their costs get passed on to those of us who do." A possible solution, he said, is to make the same insurance available to state employees available to small businesses.
Mental-health care also needs more funding, said Simmons, plus college and university research into finding alternative energy sources to lower gas prices and help the economy and environment.
But can he beat Hugo? "We have a great chance to win this election," replied Simmons. "The mood of our state is 'We want change,' and I'll bring it. I'll work with Democrats and Republicans, as I have throughout my career, to get things accomplished. And I'm excited to carry on my public service at the community level."
Furthermore, he said, "I'm interested in the 40th District and don't have aspirations for another office. Hugo is a part-time delegate who works for the Livingston Group and spends the rest of his career lobbying for special interests in Congress. I've spent my whole life working to make government effective, and I'd be a full-time delegate."
CLIFTON'S LINDA GOLDSTEIN, who's known Simmons several years, says he'll make a great state delegate because "he knows the issues and has an excellent background in management. He's trustworthy, honest and direct and would work with both sides to develop a consensus to move Virginia forward."
Gregg Fisher of Fairfax Station was impressed with Simmons when he listened with interest to an idea Fisher posed regarding preventing credit scams. "I sent Hugo an e-mail about the same thing, months ago, and never heard from him," said Fisher. "I also worked for the GAO and know the type of person who works there has high integrity. So I believe Simmons will pay attention to detail and do what is right for the citizenry."
"His entire life has been spent looking for government fraud and abuse and ways to streamline processes, and he'll bring that to the General Assembly," added Clifton's Sue Conrad. "And he's in touch with the transportation issue. He's also approachable, and he'll work with people on both sides of the aisle to influence and make change. He's an all-around, good guy."