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Rachor questions parties

Should the Jackson County Board of Commissioners become nonpartisan, and would it make any difference to the public?

Those are the questions newly elected Commissioner John Rachor wants answers to.

"I'm researching the pros and cons," said the Central Point Republican. "All through the election, I said the commissioner's position is a business position."

The Board of Commissioners generally has a very narrow scope in its decision-making process, hemmed in by federal, state and county laws, Rachor said. Only occasionally does politics play a role, he said.

Despite his feeling that the commissioner's role is generally nonpolitical, he hasn't decided whether he would support making the position nonpartisan until he studies the idea further.

Currently, commissioner candidates from the same party compete in the primary, then run against candidates in opposing parties in the general election.

Other county officials such as the sheriff, the assessor, the clerk and the surveyor are nonpartisan positions.

Rachor said he's contacted Douglas County and other counties that have gone nonpartisan, and they said voters still want to know what party their candidate belongs to.

"They tell me the public still knows who the 'D's' and 'R's' are," he said.

The question of a nonpartisan commissioner position came up frequently during the campaign, prompting Rachor's inquiry.

Independents, which make up more than 25 percent of voters in Jackson County, would be able to vote in primaries, which would be one advantage to a nonpartisan commissioner position. The top two vote-getters in the primary would face each other in the general election.

Rachor said counties that have disproportionately large numbers of Republicans or Democrats would tend to get the most complaints about a nonpartisan race because the top two candidates in the primary likely would come from one party.

Rachor didn't think Jackson County's Republican edge was sufficiently substantial enough to be a big problem.

He said he wants to gather more information before discussing the idea with the other commissioners.

Going nonpartisan would require changing the county's charter, approved in 1978.

Oregon has 14 counties that have nonpartisan commissioner positions. According to the Association of Oregon Counties, Clackamas and Wasco both recently decided to go nonpartisan.

Rachor expects Republican and Democratic officials in Jackson County likely would be opposed to a nonpartisan commissioner position.

Doug Breidenthal, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee, said he's heard talk over the years about making the local commissioner's position nonpartisan but it hasn't gone anywhere.

He said the issue hasn't been addressed by his party.

"I don't think the Republican Party has a position on that right now," he said.

Jan Waitt, chairwoman of the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee, said she's also unsure how her party would feel about a nonpartisan county commissioner position.

She said it does raise some questions and potential problems for candidates who no longer have the support of a political party.

"How do you run a campaign?" she said. "How do you organize a campaign?"

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

Rachor questions parties