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County commissioner elections should be nonpartisan

and Diarmuid McGuire

The stunning results of the May 20 election prove that Jackson County residents are fully capable of thinking for themselves. As Jeff Golden wrote in his Mail Tribune column May 25, we have a rare opportunity to build from this experience, to create a new, positive, substantive brand of politics in the Rogue Valley.

We suggest that the next step in this transformation is to elect Jackson County commissioners on a nonpartisan basis.

When we select county leadership, party labels often paralyze our ability to identify common issues and seek effective solutions. A "D" or an "R" beside a name on the ballot can become a cue to stop thinking and listening. Party primaries can serve to eliminate qualified candidates. We are conditioned to cast our votes for a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or Green Party member and assume we've done our duty.

This spring's election showed what can happen when we think outside party lines. Faced with decisions about GMOs, library districts and the extension program, we focused on the issues. We listened, we read the arguments and we cast ballots that reflected our concerns about the future of the Rogue Valley. Whether we supported all, some or none of these measures, we took the process seriously, and we studied up on the questions at hand.

Imagine a future when we invested such thought and effort in the selection of our county leaders. Imagine using the election process as an opportunity to look at our future and to debate our choices. Imagine that, and you can start to see the development of politics that could actually matter.

Two of our three county commissioners have agreed to place a charter amendment on November's ballot that would give voters an opportunity to change county commissioner elections to a nonpartisan basis. Twenty of the 28 Oregon counties with a commissioner-style government hold nonpartisan elections. A year ago, voters in Klamath County approved a move to nonpartisan elections by a 2-1 majority.

Counties across the state are figuring out that the issues that matter at a local level cross traditional party lines. At this level of government, as in our towns and cities, party affiliation serves only to stifle true and effective debate.

May's election proved that we are capable of understanding issues and working together to identify solutions. If you would like to see problem-solving politics continue in Jackson County, please support nonpartisan commissioner elections.

Pam Marsh and Diarmuid McGuire live in Ashland.