Crook County Court is considering a transition to nonpartisan commissioner positions

Currently, the Crook County Court is the only partisan body in local government.

The current administration is hoping to change that and has begun discussing the possibility of transitioning to a nonpartisan court.

The commissioners have a variety of reasons to consider the move, one of which is that political party-based ideologies do not factor into local government business.

“Since 1992, I can’t remember one decision that was ever made based on partisan politics — not one,” said Crook County Judge Mike McCabe.

The discussion was also prompted by a request from the public.

“We had a group who showed up and said we really think you should do this,” McCabe said. “Either you do it, or we will do an initiative and get it on the ballot ourselves.”

For Crook County Commissioner Ken Fahlgren, the change would eliminate some inequities he sees in the local election process. In May primary elections, like the one held in 2012, candidates for each political party run for their party’s nomination, and voters from other parties cannot cast a vote for any of those candidates. Consequently, if three Republican candidates run, no Democrats can vote in that election nor can any registered members of any parties other than Republicans.

“To me, it alienated and isolated some of the voters in the primary,” Fahlgren said. “It was frustrating to me that if you’re an Independent (party member), you really don’t have the option to vote at all in the primary.”

Once the primary election is decided for each party, the party nominee goes on to run in the November general election. If all candidates for county commissioner are Republican, that means the nominee runs unopposed and has essentially won the election.

“As we have seen in the last few elections, that (the primary) is when they are pretty well won or lost,” Fahlgren said.

McCabe and Fahlgren went on to point out that more and more county governments are making the transition to a nonpartisan body, with more than 20 of the 36 counties having made the switch.

“It seems to be a trend with local governments,”Fahlgren said.

Commissioner Seth Crawford said he supports the change, but wants the public to support the decision as well.

“To me, the most important thing is that the voters have a chance to decide on it,” he said. “In my eyes, if you are going to change government, you need to let the people decide.”

The commissioners have asked Crook County Counsel Jeff Wilson to draft an ordinance that will formalize the transition to a nonpartisan court. The ordinance will be brought before the county court for approval at a later date.

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