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Republican candidates discuss county issues

Eight Republican county commissioner hopefuls tried to woo voters before the May 18 primary Thursday night during the first of two public forums at the Medford library.

The candidates vying for two commissioner positions fielded questions prepared by the Jackson County Republican Central Committee in front of a nearly full house. The single no-show was Court Boice, of Medford, who is running for Position 3.

The questions ranged from opinions on the removal of Gold Ray Dam to the future of jobs in the county.

"Hopefully, this will give you a chance to learn a little bit about our candidates before the election," said Bryan Platt, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee.

An unprecedented 13 candidates, both Republican and Democrat, have filed to run for the open commissioner positions.

The forum kicked off by asking the candidates to give reasons pro or con why Gold Ray Dam should be removed from the Rogue River.

Rick Nagel, of Talent, led off by saying that he would carefully consider arguments from each side concerning the dam's removal before making a decision.

"I personally believe Gold Ray Dam is out of date and should be removed," Nagel said. "This would enhance fishing and fish, but I am open to other ideas."

Morris Saltekoff, of Gold Hill, was more explicit in his desire to see Gold Ray Dam remain intact. He cited environmental reasons for keeping the dam.

"There is a lot of sediment built up behind the dam and if it's removed it will flow into the river and harm the water supply," Saltekoff said. "Also, we are giving away a possible asset. I have heard it has the possibility to produce electricity for the valley."

Central Point resident Kay Harrison then tackled a complex question about the county's water situation and how it relates to water issues in Klamath County.

"I am concerned when cities start buying up the water rights of irrigation districts," Harrison said. "This can take away water from our farmers. As for Klamath County, we can look and what they've done wrong and what they've done right over the years to learn more about our situation."The candidates gave the most impassioned answers when the topic turned to job creation and retention in the county.

Don Skundrick of Medford argued that it is the duty of state and federal governments to create an atmosphere in which private industry is welcome.

"The reason a lot of our kids don't live here is because they couldn't find jobs," Skundrick said. "That's a real problem."

Commissioner Position 1 incumbent Jack Walker said the county has worked hard to ensure local construction companies have kept busy with local projects such as building and repairing public buildings.

"In this economy, the only one who has kept creating jobs is the county," Walker said. "We have put local people to work doing construction, and we used the federal money we've received to do this."

When asked to project the future of Jackson County's job picture, Craig Prewitt of Medford predicted that many businesses would have to build around tourism and retirement.

"But I hope we will be cutting some lumber by then," Prewitt said, getting a round of laughs from the room.

Prewitt went on to suggest the county could use a department dedicated to marketing and development.

"We need to show the country what we have to offer," Prewitt said. "This is a great place to live and do business."

Central Point resident John Rachor argued that Jackson County has several natural resources that could lead to lucrative innovations in the near future.

"We are halfway between Seattle and San Francisco, so we have the ability to be a big hub for business," Rachor said. "One of the things I can see in the future is the large amount of biomass we have in the county. We can figure out a way to turn that into energy to generate our own electricity much cheaper and create jobs."

However, Doug Breidenthal noted that businesses are hesitant to move into an area in which the education system is dysfunctional. He pointed to the county's high drop-out rate among high school students as evidence that the educational system needs an overhaul to make skilled workers for the future.

"We need to work on our schools and get them brought up," he said. "If we don't seek our youth for the future, we are not going to have one."

The Republican committee will host its second forum at 7 p.m. on April 20 at the Medford library, 205 South Central Avenue.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

The first of two Republican Jackson County commissioner candidate forums takes place at the Medford Library Thursday. Candidates, from left, are Rick Nagel, Morris (Bub) Saltekoff, Don Skundrick, incumbent Jack Walker, Doug Breidenthal, Kay Harrison, Craig Prewitt and John Rachor. - Jamie Lusch