Local voters will decide if county court elections will be based on political affiliation

For decades, the Crook County Court positions have carried partisan labels.

That could soon change if voters approve a new ballot measure that would change the county commissioner offices to nonpartisan.

The county court began discussing the idea after some local citizens pushed for the change during a recent meeting. The commissioners then voted to include the proposal on the May ballot.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Crook County Commissioner Ken Fahlgren. “So much of this job has nothing to do with being a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent. It has to do with day-to-day decisions overseeing the county.”

Crook County Judge Mike McCabe echoed Fahlgren’s beliefs, saying that the county court is committed to helping its constituents, and not to dealing with partisan issues.

McCabe acknowledged that the partisan labels are believed by some to give county officials more consideration when they lobby on behalf of their constituents in Salem. However, he has yet to see his Republican Party affiliation make a difference one way or the other.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “They will still talk to us and they will give us good service and good help.”

Fahlgren also supports the change because he feels the partisan offices alienates and isolates certain voters from choosing their commissioners. As evidence, he pointed out the results of the 2012 election where three candidates ran in the Republican primary. The race was decided exclusively by Republican voters.

“It was frustrating to me,” he said of the 2012 election, “that if you’re an Independent, you really don’t have the option to vote at all in the primary.”

If the measure is approved, Crook County will perpetuate a growing trend among Oregon counties. According to Eric Schmidt, communications director for the Association of Oregon Counties, 21 counties are now governed by a nonpartisan body.

“I can tell you when I started at the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) in 2004, there were less than 10,” he said.

The AOC tends to favor the nonpartisan approach for some of the same reason expressed by Fahlgren and McCabe.

“We have always said that there are very few partisan issues in county government,” Schmidt said. He went on to say that there is a certain economy to having a nonpartisan board during elections.

“You only have, in many cases, one election,” he said. “If you have a partisan setup, you are going to have two primaries in May, Republicans and Democrats, and then you will have a general election.”

Crook County Commissioner Seth Crawford declined to state a preference for nonpartisan or partisan positions. Instead, he has chosen to accept the will of the voters.

“In my eyes, if you are going to change government, you need to let the people decide,” he said.

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