Ex-Knife River executive makes bid for County Commission

MEDFORD — In a race that will pit Republican against Republican, a retired Knife River executive and community leader hopes to unseat Jackson County Commissioner Jack Walker in the May primary.

"Jack has been there a very long time," said Don Skundrick, a 67-year-old Medford resident who is on the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County board and is a past chairman. "This should not be a lifetime job. I just think it's time for some people to move on."

Skundrick is the second Republican to challenge Walker, with Morris "Bub" Saltekoff of Gold Hill also in the race. No Democrats have entered.

Walker, who hasn't filed his candidacy papers yet, believes one of the main reasons Skundrick is in the race is at the behest of the Medford chamber. He said the chamber is upset with him over questions he's raised about spending more than $100 million for a Highway 62 bypass.

Other commissioners also have questions about the benefit of the project and its effect on businesses.

"The whole idea of the chamber and their opposition to me was kind of amazing to me," Walker said. "It's a shame that we have somebody in our own party trying to unseat the incumbent. That's not the right way to do things."

Chamber officials deny Walker's assertion that it is putting a candidate up to defeat him.

Skundrick, who still does consulting work with Knife River, said he doesn't understand Walker's stance against a project that will create a lot of jobs and relieve congestion on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the valley.

"There are a lot of counties in the state that would welcome $100 million," he said. "My hat's off to our legislators who got that money for our county."

However, he insists his support for the bypass isn't the main reason he's entering the race and refutes the idea that his candidacy is at the request of the chamber.

"Jack's saying that I've been put up to this," he said, adding that his decision to run is born out of his affection for Jackson County, his business background, his fiscal conservatism and his desire to create more jobs.

Skundrick said that a major project such as the bypass requires everyone to work together and figure out how to get questions answered, but not to raise a wall of opposition. "That doesn't call for taking my ball and just going home," he said.

Walker, who turned 70 this week, pointed out that Knife River, the largest concrete supplier in the area, would benefit greatly from a massive project such as the bypass.

Skundrick said, "People are going to have to draw their own conclusions. The Knife River connection doesn't have anything to do with it."

He first considered running for commissioner two years ago. Then, recently, Jim Wright, former LTM president, contacted him about making a bid for Jack's seat. More recently, Brad Hicks, chamber president, also asked him whether he was going to run in the race, he said.

Skundrick said he respects Walker, complimenting him on helping lead the county in a more fiscally conservative direction. The two Republicans also grew up in the valley and were both Talent Bulldogs.

Out of courtesy to Walker, Skundrick said he met with him recently to let him know in advance that he would be his opponent. At the meeting, Skundrick said Walker suggested the chamber was putting him up to running.

He said he decided not to run for Commissioner Dave Gilmour's seat because Craig Prewitt, a Phoenix-Talent School Board member, has indicated he will enter that race.

Fellow Democrat Buck Eichler is the only candidate who has filed for Gilmour's seat so far. Gilmour has said he won't run again.

Walker has had problems with Crohn's disease and had transplant surgery a year ago, and many local Republicans thought he wouldn't run for reelection.

"What Jack has forgotten is that Jack didn't think he was going to run for his own seat," Hicks said. Walker announced he would run again in December.

Hicks said Walker even asked whether any local Republicans would run for his office.

Even though Walker's health has improved, it was not widely known on the street, Hicks said.

By the time Skundrick discovered that Walker was interested, Skundrick was already putting together a campaign organization, Hicks said. He said there is no behind-the-scenes campaign against Walker, and the chamber political action committee won't take a stance on a particular candidate until after the primary.

"There is no conspiracy against Jack by any means," Hicks said.

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

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