Remove party politics from county race?

Jackson County's Board of Commissioners moved a step closer Tuesday to letting voters decide whether to take party politics out of commissioner races.

At a Tuesday work session, the board instructed county officials to take the next steps to put a proposal on the May 2014 ballot that would make commissioner positions nonpartisan. If the measure were to pass, the language of the county's home rule charter would be amended to make the jobs nonpartisan by the May 2016 primary election.

"I would like to put it before the people," said Commissioner John Rachor, who said he remains neutral on the issue.

The commission will hold a public hearing to take comments from residents before making the official decision to put the measure on the ballot, though a hearing date has not yet been set.

The idea originated with Commission Chairman Don Skundrick. During his 2010 run for office, he said, the second-most asked question he received during his door-to-door campaign was why the position still had Republican and Democratic primaries.

Commissioner is the only county-level post to require political primaries before the general election.

Of the 24 Oregon counties governed by a board of commissioners, the position is nonpartisan in 14 of them. The other 12 counties are governed by a "county court" consisting of a county judge and two commissioners, according to the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

Officials from the Jackson County Republicans spoke against the proposal at a commission meeting last week, saying political primaries help voters understand candidates. Commissioner Doug Breidenthal echoed those sentiments at Tuesday's work session, saying he disagreed with the proposal.

"It removes any formal vetting in the election process, and it puts a cloud of secrecy over the person's political views," Breidenthal said.

Officials from the Jackson County Democrats said the group still hasn't taken a position. Chair Lynn Howe said whatever method voters feel results in the best candidates is the one they will stand behind.

"That's a big question," Howe said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or

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