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Josephine County Charter — What is it & Why this Article

Soon, Josephine County’s Charter Review Commission will be putting forth its updated version of the county’s governing framework. The Charter Review Commission, consisting of seven Republicans, one Democrat and one non-affiliated voter representing the cities and rural areas of the county, was hand-picked by Josephine County Commissioners in April of 2021 to update and revise the county’s charter. The charter outlines how the county should be organized, what powers elected officials should have and what administration procedures they should follow. The Review Commission was given two years to go line-by-line through the Charter to make changes based on workability and compatibility with state law if needed.

The Charter Commission will hand off its revisions to one or more citizens’ committees who will decide if the revisions have merit. If so the citizen committees will have to gather enough signatures from registered voters, 8 percent of all those who voted for a gubernatorial candidate in the last election, to get the revised charter on the ballot. Josephine County voters will then decide whether or not to approve the changes.

One major change in the report from the Commission would make county commissioner elections partisan. That change was approved by a 7 to 2 vote (all the Republicans) on the Charter Commission. Those in favor said voters would get better candidates by requiring them to run as Democrats or Republicans. These candidates would have to run in May partisan primaries, Republican against Republican and Democrat against Democrat. All other party candidates would have to collect more than 1,000 signatures to get on the general election ballot in November. The general election would pit a Republican against a Democrat and possibly a third or fourth candidate for each commissioner position.

Those opposing this change in the charter say county elected officials represent all those in the county and shouldn’t be partisan and the move would disenfranchise more than 25,000 non-affiliated voters in the county who would be unable to vote in a partisan local election. The move also has the appearance of political manipulation. In a county where registered Democrats are outnumbered 2 to 1 by registered Republican voters, Democrats can still influence a non-partisan primary by helping the more moderate candidates win. With partisan primaries, Republicans will be able to select their most partisan candidate to run against a Democrat almost guaranteed to lose in Republican dominated Josephine County. In addition, partisan candidates would tend to be influenced most by their base, make partisan-based decisions that may not be in the best interest of everyone in the county, then call any criticism of their decisions “partisan.”

Jackson County has had partisan commissioner elections since 1978. Currently, Republicans outnumber Democrats by less than 4,000 votes. In Josephine County Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 20,000 votes. Democrats in Jackson County, combined with moderate Republicans, can hold the line against extremist candidates in a partisan election. However, more than 54,000 N/A voters in Jackson County are still left out of the primary process.

According to the Medford Mail Tribune, in 2018 an effort was made to expand the county board from three to five commissioners and make those non-partisan offices but it didn’t get off the ground. Since then various candidates for Jackson County Commissioner have floated those ideas. The Republicans who usually win Commission seats in Jackson County profess to governing in a non-partisan way so voters there haven’t decided to change that element in their government yet.

Only nine Oregon counties have partisan elections: Benton, Deschutes, Gilliam, Linn, Malheur, Marion, Sherman and Wheeler.  Benton, Deschutes and Marion (barely) have more registered Democrats while the five other counties have a large Republican majority. Josephine County would only be the 10th out of 36 counties to require partisan local county elections if that version of a revised charter is passed by voters.

Stay Tuned!

10 Comments

  1. Rebecca Anderson
    April 24, 2023 @ 8:04 am

    Excellent information!
    Thanks!

    Reply

  2. DECIE Irene ZAJAC
    April 24, 2023 @ 10:49 am

    Nothing new, a Charter for “The Party” not “The People”. When do the people come first and actually have a voice?

    Reply

  3. Sherry Leonard
    April 24, 2023 @ 1:53 pm

    The present Josephine county commissioners are all extremist Republicans and do not reflect the majority opinion. How can we get more qualified and objective people to run??!!

    Reply

  4. Malcolm Drake
    July 9, 2023 @ 11:34 am

    Can anyone please explain how a transition from three to five commissioners would be done gracefully?

    Thanks,

    Reply

    • GoBlue
      July 9, 2023 @ 3:03 pm

      The Transition Section of the proposed charter notes how that would happen. Here is a summary.

      Assuming that the proposed Charter is on the November 2023 ballot and passes.

      First, the districts need to be in place for the May 2024 Primary.

      Then, all County Commissioners who are in office when this charter or any amendment of this charter takes effect may continue in office for the term for which then elected or appointed and will continue to receive compensation and benefits for that term.

      In 2024, 2 of the current 3 Commissioners are up for election now. Which means that in 2024, we would elect 4 commissioners.

      The current Position 1 Commissioner (West) would continue as the at-large commissioner until the end of the original elected term followed by a 2-year at-large commissioner election in 2026 to align with presidential election.

      District Commissioners 2 and 4 will be elected to 4-year terms in 2024. District Commissioners 1 and 3 will be elected to 2-year terms in 2024 then followed by full 4-year terms in 2026.

      Reply

  5. Malcolm Drake
    July 10, 2023 @ 7:50 am

    Makes sense; thank-you.

    Reply

  6. Malcolm Drake
    July 10, 2023 @ 11:57 am

    Will the choice for County Manager wait until the three current commissioners’ terms expire, I hope?

    Reply

    • GoBlue
      July 11, 2023 @ 3:45 pm

      If it passes, will depend about how legal counsel interprets. However, in the Proposed Charter, it specifies the method the County Manager is selected, which includes a committee to vet the applicants and then recommend a set from which the Commissioners can further interview and select.

      Reply

  7. Malcolm Drake
    July 10, 2023 @ 12:54 pm

    Found proposed charter. Having perused it, I like it. I have only one question now. I hear tell that the four districts will be Wolf Creek, Grants Pass, Williams, and Illinois Valley. These are not spelled out in the proposed Charter, as far as I can tell, nor is it spelled out how, when, by whom, nor how often the four districts will be delineated.

    Did I miss something?

    Reply

    • goblue
      July 11, 2023 @ 3:49 pm

      The proposed charter specifies the districts will be “set by ordinance so that the total population is allocated nearly equally between the four districts. Each district shall consist of contiguous territory and shall be as compact as possible.” This is performed by the County Election Official (Clerk”), then approved by the Commissioners.

      Reply

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