County's nominees eye issues

As the dust settles on Tuesday's primary election, the nominees in two Jackson County commissioner races are preparing to grapple over issues ranging from the economy to land use that could dominate the general election.

In one race, Ashland Democrat Jeff Golden, a former county commissioner, writer and radio talk show host, will take on retired Knife River executive and Medford resident Don Skundrick, fresh from unseating Republican incumbent Jack Walker.

Central Point Republican John Rachor, owner of eight Burger King franchises, will compete with Democrat Mark Wisnovsky, owner of Valley View Winery and a Jacksonville resident, for the seat now held by Dave Gilmour.

Three of the four candidates have strong business backgrounds, something they have already played up in primary.

While debate over land-use and the economy could dominate the races, the candidates will also be considering their strategic options as they campaign.

Skundrick said he's not sure which issues he and Golden will spar over in the campaign, but he predicts their differences will be apparent.

He said he had no doubt that Golden will be a formidable candidate with a lot of name recognition.

"I think he will campaign hard," he said.

Skundrick's political strategy will come in part from an unlikely source: the book "The Campaign Manager: Running and Winning Local Elections," which was written by Cathy Shaw, Golden's ex-wife and a well-known local Democratic political strategist.

Skundrick said his main campaign issue will be that Jackson County should help foster a business-friendly climate.

Skundrick said the role of government should be to encourage the growth of business by clustering of certain types industry to create a more robust local economy. He said the high-tech industry is doing well locally, but needs more help to gain an even stronger footing.

Health care has become an important part of the local economy, but Skundrick would like to see other sectors take off.

"We can't just become a retirement community," he said. "We've done a pretty good job of reinventing ourselves here locally away from agriculture, but we're relying heavily on health services."

Golden, who responded by e-mail, said all four commissioner candidates have to campaign differently this year, moving away from the standard "gotcha" politics.

He said he doesn't even like the idea of challenging his opponent to a debate.

Instead, he said, he wants to work together to develop six community forums focused on such issues as job creation, county budget problems, foreclosures, food security, water and transportation.

He wants to invite people from different communities who have studied certain issues. Golden said the candidates should limit themselves to talking 20 percent of the time and listening the remaining 80 percent.

Golden said he, too, will use some of the strategies outlined in Shaw's book, but won't be limited to them.

"Nobody ought to use it as the Bible," he said. "There is some good stuff there."

Wisnovsky said land use will likely be a major issue in the campaign for Position 3 on the Board of Commissioners, but he said he's still not sure what Rachor's position is.

He said Rachor has made statements referring to a man's home as his castle, a philosophy that Wisnovsky said can work until your neighbor decides to put in a hog farm or a rock quarry.

Wisnovsky said property rights also have to be weighed against the effects a development will have on neighbor's properties.

While Rachor often talks about running the county like a business, Wisnovsky said that philosophy works only when it comes to preparing budgets.

"I don't think it should be run like business," he said.

Government often has to expand while businesses contract during an economic downturn, he said, because as people lose their jobs, they must rely more on social services.

At the same time, government can also help stimulate business, Wisnovsky said. He said he would like to increase the county's contribution to the Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., which he said has provided far more for the local economy than it has cost. The county's current contribution is $25,000.

Wisnovsky not only has read Shaw's book on campaigning, he said he has her on his campaign team. While he's still developing the next phase of his campaign, he predicted the candidates would stick to the issues and avoid attacks.

"I think we have four people who are good, honorable men," he said.

John Rachor said his strong suit going into the general election is his varied business experience as a rancher, restaurant owner and aviator.

Rachor said he's not all that familiar with Wisnovsky, but believes the strongest disagreement will be over land-use issues.

"I think that will be our big difference," Rachor said.

He is a strong believer in making land-use laws as flexible as possible. "Landowners should have as much leeway as possible," Rachor said.

He said he supported a recent idea that would allow Harry & David to sell off land near urban areas to raise capital so that the company could plant orchards in more rural areas of the county.

Rachor said he's had difficulties dealing with the county's planning offices in the past and would like to do more to streamline the process for landowners.

He doesn't think all the problems lie with county planners, though. There are state laws that get tangled up in many land-use decisions that Rachor thinks could be better defined by lawmakers in Salem.

"What we need to do is work with our state legislators," he said.

The salary of county commissioners, which is just shy of $100,000, is a hot topic of conversation among voters, Rachor said.

He would like to change the process of determining the commissioners' salaries to allow some gauge of public sentiment before any raise is approved.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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