Morrison joins race for county commission

Ashland Mayor John Morrison has joined the race for Jackson County commissioner.

He and two other Democratic candidates, Jim Olney and Scott Keith, will face off in the May 20 primary. Incumbent C.W. Smith is being challenged by Morris "Bud" Saltekoff on the Republican side.

"In order to have a good chance to displace an incumbent, you have to have a high profile," said 63-year-old Morrison, who filed his candidacy papers Tuesday. "I have a higher profile than the other candidates."

Keith, 44, who lives in a rural area outside of Ashland, also filed his candidacy papers Tuesday.

They join Olney, an Ashland resident who announced his candidacy earlier.

Morrison said he's been thinking about making a run for the commissioner office for several years. His term as mayor ends this year.

"I think I have a certain vision that is sorely lacking with the commissioners," he said. "The commissioners spend way too much time looking backwards."

Instead of recalling a time when the timber industry was big in Jackson County, the commissioners need to look ahead to bring more job opportunities for the region, he said.

An Oregon native, Morrison said he also wants to protect the natural amenities of the region and encourage well-planned development.

"We need to protect its livability and enhance it," he said.

Morrison said he wants to give his campaign a regional focus and not dwell on the fact that he's from Ashland.

As mayor, Morrison said he is familiar with officials and council members from different communities across the valley.

Taking on an incumbent is difficult, but Morrison said, "When I get into a campaign I expect to win."

Keith, who is store manager at McKenzie Outfitters Inc. in Medford and has lived in Jackson County for 10 years, said he joined the race because he's seen very few options raised to help deal with the loss of timber revenues other than raising taxes or reducing services.

He would like the business community to take a more active role in helping spur the county's economy, generating more interest in trade shows, business conventions and destination resorts, among other options.

He said the county needs to look at developing its own fuel sources, such as biofuels and solar energy, and other ways to reduce dependence on expensive oil.

"Jackson County spends $1 million a day on fuel," he said. "A portion of that could be generated locally."

Keith said he didn't know Morrison was going to enter the race and doesn't know him personally.

"To represent Jackson County, you kind of need somebody not entrenched in Ashland politics," said Keith. Though he lives on Colestin Road south of Ashland, Keith said he has more in common with Eagle Point or Rogue River than Ashland.

He said he is strongly against the proposed liquefied natural gas pipeline that could traverse the county.

"They're talking about using eminent domain to take land away from Oregonians for California residents," he said.

Olney, the 55-year-old executive director of the Jackson County Library Foundation, challenged Morrison's statement that he has the highest profile of the Democratic candidates.

"I don't think the mayor has a higher profile than I do," he said.

Olney said his work with the foundation means he has traversed the county and is well known in many communities.

He announced his candidacy in February, and he said both Morrison and Keith have entered the campaigns but have failed to provide the public with much information about their candidacies with only 10 weeks left before the election.

"I'm out in front," he said. "They just filed today."

Commissioner Smith said, "I think it's going to be an interesting race for the Democrats."

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