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Commissioner candidates see things differently

The two candidates for Jackson County commissioner differ sharply on the importance of spending federal dollars, which provide a large chunk of the county's annual $316 million budget.

Doug Breidenthal, Republican candidate for the commissioner seat now held by C.W. Smith, said he would approach spending federal dollars for county programs cautiously even though federal and state dollars provide 90 percent of the county's budget.

"I would have to weigh that heavily in my decision-making process to make sure we're not the people causing the problem on a national basis," he said.

Jeff Scroggin, his Democratic challenger, attempted to press Breidenthal on what county programs he would cut because many depend on a combination of federal and state money.

"The county would be in complete crisis mode if it didn't take federal and state dollars," he said.

Scroggin and Breidenthal discussed their views at a forum Thursday in Medford sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Rogue Valley. Troy Hackett, who is running as an independent, didn't attend the forum.

Scroggin said federal and state dollars are vital to the region, particularly for health, roads and other services. In particular, he cited a combination of federal, state, local and shipper dollars that together have brought in $15 million to rehabilitate the Siskiyou rail line.

Breidenthal said cities and counties are all too eager to receive federal grants without acknowledging the impact these grants might have on the national debt.

"We have to borrow 40 cents on the dollar from our Social Security programs on a national basis that affect our elderly and from our Federal Reserve that's adding to the national debt," Breidenthal said.

According to FactCheck.org, the U.S. borrowed about 36 cents of every dollar spent in 2011 to pay for all federal programs. The federal government borrowed 37 cents on the dollar in 2010 and 40 cents in fiscal 2009, according to FactCheck.

However, FactCheck did not determine that Social Security is the only reason the U.S. borrows money, though Social Security and Medicare make up the largest share of federal spending at 33.5 cents of every dollar in 2010, with national defense at 20 percent.

Breidenthal didn't single out any particular program that he would cut out of the county budget. He later said he would weigh the needs of the community first before turning down any federal grants or dollars.

Breidenthal said Jackson County has another opportunity to raise dollars locally that doesn't include federal support. He said the county needs to press ahead with efforts to secure more timber harvests.

Scroggin said he supports increasing timber harvests and putting people back to work in the forests.

However, Scroggin said the county probably can't go back to a time when it was as dependent on timber harvests for its economic vitality. He said the county needs to improve its economic base by bringing in other industries.

Both candidates supported Gov. John Kitzhaber's executive order creating a pilot project in Jackson, Josephine and Douglas counties to identify lands that have been mis-zoned.

Scroggin said he wants to find the right balance that encourages farming, while at the same time finding a way to stimulate growth.

Breidenthal said he is a firm property-rights supporter, believing that federal, state and local laws stand in the way of development.

On casinos, the candidates take different views.

Breidenthal said he would leave it up to tribes to figure out whether a casino is right for Medford. He is opposed to two statewide measures — 82 and 83 — that would open up the possibility of casinos for private businesses, saying he doesn't want the state to look like Nevada.

Scroggin said the state needs more family-wage jobs, which casinos could offer. While he personally doesn't frequent casinos, he said, other people seem to like them.

The candidates also had different views about the political nature of the Board of Commissioners.

Scroggin is in favor of a creating a nonpartisan county Board of Commissioners. "I'm not in favor of making partisan decisions," he said.

Breidenthal said he subscribes firmly to the Republican platform.

"Will it influence me in the county — no it doesn't," he said. "I will still represent everybody."

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

Commissioner candidates see things differently