Jackson County considers making commissioners nonpartisan

Being a Republican or Democrat could soon be a moot point for voters considering candidates for Jackson County commissioner

The county's Board of Commissioners is considering a ballot measure that would change the commissioner post to a nonpartisan one.

If the measure makes to a ballot and is passed in the May 2014 election, the language of the county's home rule charter would be amended to make commissioners nonpartisan positions by the May 2016 primary election.

The commissioner job is currently the only county-level position to hold primaries for Republican and Democratic candidates before a general election is held for the parties' winning contenders.

Commissioner Chair Don Skundrick said commissioners being a partisan post was a common point of discussion during his 2010 campaign.

"That was the second most-asked question," Skundrick said of his door-to-door chats with voters.

At a public hearing today at the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, county officials said 23 of Oregon's 36 counties have nonpartisan elections for commissioners.

"There seems to be a trend to go that way. I'm not sure why that is," said Commissioner John Rachor, adding it's not yet known when the board will make its decision on referring the issue to voters.

He added that an advantage to making the position nonpartisan was allowing citizens to vote on all candidates who filed for an election.

Some people at the meeting today spoke out against the proposal. Chuck Heauser, chairman for the Jackson County Republican Party, said keeping the party involved helps voters better vet the candidates

"It gives voters a better idea to understand what (a candidate's) identity is," Heauser said.

He added several Oregon counties who have made the position nonpartisan are looking to reverse the decision.

Bob Olsson, Jackson County Republican Party vice chairman, agreed, saying the current system better vets candidates and that taking that away could lead to an overwhelming number of candidate choices.

"It would clog up the system. Then you don't really get to the best people," Olsson said.

— Ryan Pfeil

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