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Grieving party seeks Bates' replacement

Grieving Democrats are gearing up for an unusual situation in which three Republican county commissioners will choose a replacement for Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, who died unexpectedly during a fishing trip on Friday.

"We've got work to do," said David Roadman, chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Party. "We lost a real champion of the people for the state of Oregon."

Roadman said Democrats will hold two conventions locally to choose a replacement.

The first convention will pick three to five candidates' names to be sent to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, who will pick one to serve in the interim until a newly elected senator is sworn in next January.

The second convention will nominate a candidate to run in the November election. Republicans and other political parties also will select a November candidate for Senate District 3, which covers the southern end of Jackson County, including Medford.

Ashland Republican Dave Dotterrer, Bates' opponent in 2010 and 2014, has indicated he's considering running again.

According to Oregon law (ORS 171.051), if a legislative seat becomes vacant more than 61 days prior to the next general election, the position "shall be filled by the electors of the affected legislative district at the first general election." There are about 95 days until the Nov. 8 general election. Oregon law requires the vacancy be filled on an interim basis within 30 days.

Roadman said he hopes both Democratic conventions can be held on the same day, which has been tentatively set for Aug. 19.

Democrats also are losing Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who announced he wouldn't seek reelection this year. Roadman said Buckley has said he didn't want to run for Bates' Senate seat.

"The 'B&B' boys are no longer with us," Roadman said.

Roadman said it has been difficult for Democrats to wrap their minds around selecting a replacement so soon after the loss of Bates.

Bates died Friday while fly-fishing with his son. According to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Bates and his son stopped to clean their fish off of Highway 230, about six miles past the Highway 62 turnoff to Crater Lake. Bates had walked down to the river, and when his son went to look for him after about 10 minutes, he found his father dead.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has called for an autopsy to determine the cause of Bates' death.

Roadman said he's received several inquiries from locals about the Senate seat, but he said no firm commitments have come forward.

Since county commissioners will select a candidate nominated by the Democrats, Roadman said it's possible politics might come into play.

Also, Democrats may select a candidate for the November election who is also someone they've proposed to commissioners as interim senator, Roadman said.

"Ideally, you want to put your best foot forward," he said. "But there could be some wrinkles in this thing."

Like many Democrats, Roadman said he has thought about the possibility of a candidacy from Republican Dotterrer, who lost by only 275 votes in 2010.

Dotterrer said he hasn't reached any conclusions about whether he will run this November.

"I'm just contemplating things," he said. "It's something on my radar, and it's a consideration."

He said he plans to think about the candidacy a bit more, but Dotterrer said he's still shocked by the loss of Bates.

"This is a tragedy for the community," he said. "We lost a leader."

Commissioner Rick Dyer said he and his fellow Republican commissioners will have an interesting choice to make.

"Coming into this position, I didn't think I'd ever be choosing a Democratic candidate," he said. "It's such an odd thing to have fall into our laps."

Dyer said he wasn't sure how much political strategy would play in the commissioners' decisions, and he wasn't sure that the selection of a particular candidate would have much sway in the November election, anyway.

The person picked for the Senate position will be on the job for a short period and without any legislative sessions, Dyer said.

Nevertheless, Dyer said, it is interesting to think how their selection might provide some kind of advantage over a Republican candidate in the general election.

"We will certainly choose someone based on their ability to do the job," he said. "It will certainly not be somebody who shares all our beliefs."

Commissioners in 2004 chose Sal Esquivel to replace Sen. Lenn Hannon, who resigned to take a job with the state Parole Board.

At the time, Commissioner Dave Gilmour, a Democrat, voted for Esquivel because he thought it would benefit  the Democratic Party locally.

"I will pick the weakest Republican to help Al Bates win in November," said Gilmour.

Ultimately, Esquivel dropped out of the Senate race and successfully ran for representative. Bates won the election that November and became senator.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.