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State's late primary frustrates county voters

Oregon, which enacted the first presidential primary into law in 1910, had for many decades one of the most important and prestigious primaries in the nominating process — but no more.

Now the state's May primary is almost last in line, ahead only of Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico. Local residents said Monday they feel their vote doesn't count.

"I feel like I don't have a stake in the process. I have no vote. It will be determined before we vote," said Bobbie Turner, former vice chairwoman of Jackson County Democrats.

"It's not in the spirit of the democratic process."

Turner and other local politicos want to see four regional primaries — possibly divided into West, East, North-Central and South-Central — on four different dates, with a rolling start date so that each region gets to be first every fourth time.

"I'd like to see it be regional and states really should go along with it, for the sake of fairness," said state Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford. He suggested dividing the primaries by time zones, noting, "You would get a good cross-grain of political thought that way."

The sticky reshaping of the primary process, Esquivel said, should be done by the parties, not Congress.

Gary Moore, vice chairman of Jackson County Democrats, said he doesn't count Oregon out of this year's presidential nomination process. Oregon, with its 65 delegates, might stand as a juicy plum at the end of the primary trail, he said.

"I'm not sure the 2,025 delegates (needed by one candidate to secure the Democratic nomination) will be chosen and that's because of proportional selection. Oregon may turn out to be one of the deciding points," said Moore, noting that the surge this week by Barack Obama could also make it "nip and tuck" to the end.

The Democratic Party, said Moore, designed its primaries for candidates to get delegates based on their proportion of votes in each congressional district, hampering any one candidate from jumping way ahead. Republicans lean toward winner-take-all primaries.

Bryan Platt, Jackson County Republican Central Committee chairman, suggested both parties could have competitive races well into the season, but that the real solution lay in regional primaries.

"Obviously, I'd like a say in the primaries," he said. "It's really fun, to get a look at a lot of candidates and their attributes and find one that best mirrors your philosophy.

"There's so much money and potential power in the process, it's become a four-year cycle and it's not going to change."

Former state Republican Chairman Perry Atkinson said although a clear nominee may not surface until several primaries after Super Tuesday, it's still unfair to other states and he's disappointed with how the system is run.

"We need to revisit it so we can become a player again," said Atkinson.

Paulie Brading, chairwoman of Jackson County Democrats, said there's intense interest in regional primaries among Democrats around the state because "the element of fairness is embedded in it," although early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire may resist it.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.