Parsing the vote

Jackson County voters, presented with one of the most crowded primary election ballots in memory, spoke clearly Tuesday night. They nominated three business-minded candidates for county commissioner positions, and they delivered a message to longtime incumbent Jack Walker: Hit the road, Jack.

It would be easy to chalk up Walker's defeat to the anti-incumbent sentiment evident across the country these days. That may have played a role, but there was more to it than that. Walker's loss was largely of his own making.

Voter anger over the commissioners' hefty pay raise last year, followed by a step increase this year that pushed their salaries to nearly six figures, undoubtedly contributed to Walker's defeat on Tuesday. Walker's attitude toward the Southern Oregon Historical Society also angered historical preservation advocates.

Walker defended the salary increase as "absolutely reasonable," and suggested that you get what you pay for. He told the Mail Tribune Editorial Board, "I'm afraid of who might get elected" if the salary for the position remained lower. Voters apparently were not afraid to try someone new.

It will be interesting to see if the salary issue becomes a problem for Commissioner C.W. Smith, who is up for re-election in two years. If Smith decides to run again, his salary is likely to be well above $100,000 by then.

The primary winners for the two commissioner positions may differ on some issues, but they share a common trait: Each made his mark in the business world.

Don Skundrick, who defeated Walker and two other candidates for the GOP nomination for position 1, retired after a long career with Knife River Materials, formerly LTM. John Rachor, who appeared headed for victory Wednesday in the position 3 race, built a successful network of Burger King franchises. Mark Wisnovsky, the Democratic nominee for position 3, owns Valley View Vineyards, the county's first successful winery.

Wisnovsky easily outdistanced rivals Jim Sims and Buck Eichler despite criticism from both during the campaign over a Measure 37 land-use claim filed by Wisnovsky's mother that sought permission for a hotel and convention center adjacent to the Applegate Valley winery.

Wisnovsky maintained his mother sought only to protect her home and a rental property. The hotel and convention center were listed on the application at the recommendation of a consultant, he said, but his mother never intended to pursue such a large-scale development.

Voters apparently put little stock in the attacks, either because adherence to strict land-use regulations is not a litmus test for Democrats at the local level or because they accepted Wisnovsky's explanation.

It's interesting to note that neither Sims nor Eichler were willing immediately to endorse Wisnovsky on Tuesday night. The combined vote totals of the two nearly equaled Wisnovsky's tally, splitting the Democratic vote down the middle. Support from Sims and Eichler will be crucial if Wisnovsky wants to win the seat in November.

Share This Story