Pulling ahead from a pack of five candidates is presenting a challenge for Republicans in the primary race for a Jackson County commissioner seat.
Court Boice, Doug Breidenthal, Kay Harrison, Craig Prewitt and John Rachor have different opinions about who the front-runner might be as they each try to get traction with voters.
They all agree that Prewitt, Rachor and Breidenthal have put out the most lawn signs and have spent the most in the campaign.
"I hate to say it, but I'm not a big sign guy," said Boice, a jet boat operator and river guide. "It doesn't show people how you are going to represent them."
Boice believes Jackson County voters have five good candidates to choose from for the Republican nomination for the seat now held by Democrat Dave Gilmour, who is not seeking re-election.
"I'm definitely the underdog here and I like that role, but I am honored to participate and speak my mind," he said.
"One of us might be embarrassed by finishing last. It might be me, but who can say."
He said if elected, he would work harder than anyone. "I cannot imagine anybody putting more heart into it," he said.
Less government is generally the best idea, Boice said, but he disagrees with at least one of his opponents about creating new departments.
In fact, Boice said he wants to create three new departments related to water issues, jobs and land use, although acknowledging it could mean cutting other departments.
Boice said he likes Rachor's idea of using volunteers to perform some county duties and disagreed with Breidenthal that that would be impossible.
"Don't tell me we can't do something," he said. "That is the old way. John is innovative on that."
Boice said it would require negotiations with the unions, but is worth the effort.
Breidenthal, a fire captain, believes he is one of the front-runners in the race based on conversations with voters and unsolicited phone calls.
"I believe the race right now is between myself, Prewitt and Rachor," he said.
He said what sets him apart from Prewitt is a commitment not to expand government.
Prewitt advocates create a marketing department to help attract business to the county.
"Those dollars need to stay in the private sector and let people in the private sector handle the marketing of Jackson County," Breidenthal said.
He questioned Prewitt's commitment to the job of county government because he took a vacation in the Caribbean island of St. Martin in the week before ballots were mailed to voters.
"If you know you're going to run for office, why would you schedule a vacation during the primaries?" he said. "I just don't get it."
In conversations with former Prewitt supporters, Breidenthal said he has heard other criticisms.
"I've been told that he comes off as a salesman," Breidenthal said. "They feel like he is giving a sales pitch."
As to Rachor, he said, "John doesn't understand how government really works."
Rachor has advocated using retired volunteers as flaggers on road projects, and possibly provide compensation to them by giving them health insurance.
Breidenthal said that by giving the flaggers insurance, they become employees and become subject to labor laws, which means they would have to be paid minimum wage.
Creating volunteer flaggers also would put the county at odds with the union and violate collective bargaining agreements that are protected under state laws.
"The fact is the state law is the state law," Breidenthal said.
Harrison, a Central Point City Council member, said it would be a mistake to look at lawn signs as an indicator of who the front-runner might be because the mood of the county is different this political season.
"The trust issue is really big," she said.
However, lawn signs do help bolster the profile of the candidate, she said.
"Perception is just that and that very well could be true," Harrison said.
But with so many well-qualified candidates in the race, it's anybody's guess who the winner will be, she said.
"I don't know how you can really know until May 18 at 8 o'clock," Harrison said.
She thinks Rachor has good support, Prewitt has some name recognition and Breidenthal provides a fresh face.
She gives Breidenthal credit for doing his homework, but she said, "Local government is a lot different than dealing with the federal government and the fire department."
Prewitt has dealt with a school board, but Harrison said he's also not as familiar with the workings of local government.
Harrison said she didn't agree with Prewitt's idea of creating a marketing department and doesn't support any expansion of county government.
Harrison took issue with Prewitt being unavailable while on vacation.
She said if Prewitt were more familiar with how the Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., the county and the chamber worked together, he would realize the marketing department was unnecessary.
In general, Harrison said all the candidates have strong points. "These are really good guys," she said.
If Prewitt or Rachor were elected, she predicted they would probably turn to commissioners C.W. Smith or Jack Walker for advice.
She thought Breidenthal might be a bit more independent, but still seek counsel from Smith or Walker.
Prewitt, a Phoenix-Talent School Board member, said he wasn't going to comment on the speculations of other candidates, particularly from Breidenthal.
"I think the voters have the intelligence to see through comments of that type," he said. "I'm not going to say anything that denigrates someone's choice and opinion."
As to his vacation in St. Martin, Prewitt said he had to use it under his time share agreement or lose it.
"I don't need to defend the choice to take a vacation at any time," he said.
His commitment to the job is unassailable because he has spent the past four years regularly attending county commissioner meetings, he said.
Prewitt stands by his idea of creating a business development department that would work with groups such as SOREDI, the chamber and Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University.
He thinks it would be money well spent to help attract businesses and add jobs in the county without raising taxes.
Prewitt said additional marketing of Southern Oregon would be beneficial, providing another avenue to tout the natural resources of the area and expand the diversity of the local economy.
He wouldn't directly comment on Rachor's idea of using more volunteers.
However, Prewitt said that as someone who has worked with unions for the past 20 years, he is very familiar with laws regarding collective bargaining.
"Most collective bargaining agreements prohibit the use of volunteers if it takes the place of those in collective bargaining," he said.
Prewitt didn't want to speculate on who the front-runner was but did say it appears the race is getting close.
Rachor, owner of eight Burger King franchises, said Breidenthal, Prewitt and himself are the biggest spenders in the race, but didn't know if that translated into attracting voters.
He said he has some name recognition in the Eagle Point and White City areas, while Prewitt is well-known around Phoenix and Talent and Harrison is familiar to Central Point voters.
He's reluctant to say who the front-runners are because all the candidates appear well qualified.
"I wouldn't bet on any of us," he said.
Rachor defended his suggestion the county consider using more volunteers, pointing out that the county already uses them at the libraries and in search and rescue.
"I'm talking about retired people that go home and they are bored," he said. "My idea is to bring them back in."
Rachor said he wouldn't advocate laying off any workers and would only add volunteers where there wasn't a union member to fill the position.
After spending a career as a businessman, Rachor said he would try to get the county to think differently about staffing to provide services and save money.
"I think we can work this out," he said.
Rachor defended Prewitt's decision to take a week's vacation in the midst of the campaign.
"I respect the fact that he went there with his family," he said. Rachor said he's also got a time share that he needs to use once a year.
He disagreed with Prewitt's idea of creating a marketing department, however.
"That's what SOREDI's for," he said.
Overall, he gives Prewitt good marks and doesn't feel he's just offering a sales pitch.
"I have to say that Craig is just well-spoken," he said. "He is very sincere and very knowledgeable. He is very eloquent."
He gives Harrison high marks for her knowledge of the county, particularly on road issues.
Rachor said Breidenthal is knowledgeable about the issues, but felt his relative youthfulness could hurt him.
Standing above a crowd of qualified candidates has been difficult, said Rachor. But he thinks his business experience, his ability to handle a multimillion-dollar budget and his overseeing 243 employees will appeal to voters.
"I've got 35 years of good business decisions," he said.
Damian Mann is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4476, or e-mail email@example.com.