• County commission might become nonpartisan

    Proposed change backed by outgoing board member considered for May ballot
  • A candidate's political affiliation might become a moot point for voters considering their choices for Jackson County commissioner.
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  • A candidate's political affiliation might become a moot point for voters considering their choices for Jackson County commissioner.
    The county's Board of Commissioners is considering a ballot measure that would make the commission posts nonpartisan.
    If the measure makes it to the May 2014 ballot and is passed, the language of the county's home rule charter would be amended to make commissioner seats nonpartisan by the May 2016 primary election.
    The commissioner job is the only county-level position that requires primaries for Republican and Democratic candidates before the general election.
    Commission Chairman Don Skundrick said the issue came up often during his 2010 campaign.
    "That was the second most-asked question," Skundrick said of his door-to-door chats with voters.
    He supports the change, saying voters would have to become more informed about candidates as opposed to going only by party affiliation.
    "If I leave any legacy at all, that's something I would like to do," Skundrick said. "I'm for the right person. What I'm interested in is, 'Is that person going to be the best person for the job?' "
    At a public hearing Wednesday at the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, county officials said 23 of Oregon's 36 counties have nonpartisan elections for commissioners and judges.
    "There seems to be a trend to go that way. I'm not sure why that is," said Commissioner John Rachor, adding it's not yet known when the board will decide whether to refer the issue to voters.
    Neither Rachor or Skundrick is running for re-election.
    If the commission were nonpartisan, the ballot would include all candidates who filed for an election.
    Some people at the meeting, including Commissioner Doug Breidenthal, spoke against the proposal.
    "To change that at this time without the voters bringing it to us would be a mistake," Breidenthal said.
    Chuck Heauser, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party, said keeping the parties involved helps voters better vet the candidates.
    "It gives voters a better idea to understand what (a candidate's) identity is," Heauser said.
    Bob Olsson, Jackson County Republican Party vice chairman, said the proposed change could lead to an overwhelming number of candidate choices.
    "It would clog up the system. Then you don't really get to the best people," Olsson said.
    Lynn Howe, chair of the Jackson County Democrats, said the group has not yet taken a position.
    "We'll be taking it to our central committee," Howe said. "We'll be interested in looking at other counties and what their experience has been."
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.
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