To the Right of Reality: Misconceptions in the County Charter Proposals Debate.

On the July 11 episode of The Bill Meyer Show on KMED, Herman Baertschiger, Chair of the Josephine County Commission, articulated his preference among the charter proposals currently vying for a spot on the ballot. It’s worth noting that traditionally, charters do not originate from the commissioners, rather, they are exclusively drafted by a citizens’ committee.

Two years prior, the Commissioners had appointed a committee to modernize the county charter. The revised charter they proposed was, however, not adopted by a citizens’ committee. Instead, two separate charters were put forward: one by Chief Petitioner Jonathan Knapp, and another by the Citizens for Responsible Government.

Knapp’s proposal aims to make all elected roles within the county partisan. Thus, candidates for positions like sheriff, county clerk, or assessor would have to declare their affiliation with either the Republican or Democrat party.

The proposal by Citizens for Responsible Government, on the other hand, advocates for expanding the Board of Commissioners from three to five members and hiring a professional county manager.

What follows below is the radio exchange between Meyer and Baertschiger. 

This conversation reveals a limited understanding of the implications of the proposed charter amendments, as well as a mischaracterization of those advocating for changes. To provide context and clarification, we have included responses that counteract these misrepresentations and provide a more nuanced perspective on this crucial local issue. We hope this analysis serves as a helpful guide as you navigate this complex conversation and consider the future governance of Josephine County. At the end of this recap, you’ll find our message to the Democrats and Independents in Josephine County.

Bill Meyer – So you have a couple of charter change amendments in JoCo? 

Herman Baertschiger – So there’s two versions, there’s the conservative version and both of these are out on the street for signatures, and then there’s the liberal version so there’s two different groups of people.

Baertschiger’s claim is patently incorrect. To label the Citizens for Responsible Government’s proposal as a “liberal” version is an egregious mischaracterization. This group is a non-partisan assembly consisting of Republicans, Democrats, and non-affiliated individuals. It’s simply unjustifiable to shoehorn them into a partisan category. On the other hand, Jonathan Knapp’s proposal is indeed presented as the conservative variant, but it’s essential to separate these facts from inaccurate labels.

Baertshiger – So let’s run through some of the big differences. We don’t have time to run through everything so the big differences is the commissioners, the county commissioners are at large. The conservatives want them to stay the same, three commissioners at large. The liberals want to change it to non-partisan…actually it is non-partisan now. 

The conservatives want to make it partisan and the liberals want five commissioners and they want it to be non-partisan. In the five member commissioners’ office, they will be part time because the liberals want to have a county manager now and five part-time commissioners. Four of em will be by districts, I think one will be at large….um they want to give the county manager $150,000 plus a year, plus health insurance plus PERS, plus vacation pay, plus a vehicle, so they…so they estimate the cost would be exceeding $300,000 for this and I think you know how I feel about a county manager. I just I don’t’ like bureaucrats having that much control. It needs to be elected officials. So that’s how I feel about it.

Baertschiger’s figures concerning the so-called “liberal” version appear to be drawn from an unknown source. The task of hiring a county manager would fall squarely on the shoulders of the commissioners, as would the responsibility of determining that manager’s salary. His assertions thus seem to be based on conjecture rather than solid, verifiable facts. It is critical that we keep our discourse rooted in reality and not cloud it with speculative and misleading narratives.

Meyer – I do find it interesting though that the liberal version of the Josephine County charter change being proposed, what they’re trying to get signatures for, is very akin to what failed Jackson County Commission candidate Denise Kraus is pushing. That was in the news media over the weekend here. And they want five. The Democrats want five, by district, and they also want it to be non-partisan. Which I think is very interesting. And to me it’s just a way….well, really essentially what this is about is if you go by districts then Ashland and Jacksonville and a couple of other of the liberal hive minds, they get their communist commissioner. I think that’s what they’re pushing to do.

Meyer’s remarks seem to sidestep a fundamental democratic principle: all regions within a county deserve equal representation on the board of commissioners. As it stands, many residents of Josephine County, particularly those in outlying areas, feel their voices are not being heard because the current commissioners reside in or near the City of Grants Pass. To insinuate that advocating for district-based representation is a ploy for “communist” influence overlooks the genuine concerns of these communities for more balanced and local representation.

Baertschiger – Well of course, of course it is and let me tell you a little story. They were collecting signatures in front of the post office and I stopped. It was an elderly couple. Nice couple. And I said so why is non-partisan better than partisan? And they said well there’s 29 thousand people that don’t get to vote in Josephine County. And I said whataya mean they don’t get to vote? They said they don’t get to vote cause everything’s partisan. I said STOP. Wait a second. I said that’s in the primaries. And they said that’s right, they don’t get to vote and I said well a primary is a party election. If you don’t belong to the Elks Club you don’t get to vote for the Grand PooBah. If you don’t belong to the church you don’t get to vote for the council president. Don’t tell me they don’t get the right to vote. The voting for the position is in November and they get the right to vote so you’re misleading the people saying that partisan doesn’t allow people to vote.

Baertschiger’s assertions seem to fundamentally misconstrue the democratic process. Should the ‘conservative’ charter pass, it would unjustly strip 29,000 non-affiliated voters of their primary election voting rights in Josephine County. This isn’t about club elections – it’s about safeguarding democratic principles. His misleading narrative obscures this serious disenfranchisement issue.

Meyer – By the way, non-affiliated, you know a non-affiliated candidate could qualify for the ballot and run for county commission. Right? You don’t have to be a member of a party to run. Even in a partisan election.

Meyer’s comments gloss over a significant barrier in the process. While it’s technically correct that a non-affiliated candidate could run for county commission, what he fails to mention is that such candidates, not being members of the Republican or Democratic Party, would have to undertake the challenging and often resource-intensive process of gathering signatures just to secure a place on the ballot. This detail is critical in understanding the full picture of what non-affiliated candidates would face under the proposed changes.

Baertschiger – in the general election. But the primary is a party election and so I said look, the United States is, party politics and the they said no its not and I said why is the governor, secretary of state the legislature, the treasurer the president of the united states, senators and congressman all partisan? And they looked at me and they said well we don’t care about all that. We just care about this and so they’re very misinformed, misled, don’t understand the process but yet they’re out there explaining this to people getting signatures so it’s frustrating Bill.

Baertschiger’s comments exhibit a misunderstanding of the nuanced role of local officials. Their duties primarily involve handling local concerns such as the provision of infrastructure, land use decisions, sanitation, and local transportation – all issues that transcend partisan politics. Hence, local officials are typically elected based on their capacity to effectively serve their community, rather than their political party affiliation.

Meyer – Yeah, I’m hoping Denise Kraus fails dramatically on this one but they probably will get it qualified for the ballot though I have no doubt about that but they’re going to sell this thing about (Bill uses a mocking, squeaky voice) “non-partisan is good.” Well really what it means is that you hide your affiliation behind…well we’re non-partisan, right?

Baertschiger – It gives the ability for the left to hide their spots is what it does. 

Meyer – And that’s essentially what it does. Now if you want to run as an Independent for county commission, great, that’s fine but don’t try to fool us with this somehow non-partisan means good automatically.

This exchange reveals a concerning undercurrent, suggesting a deliberate effort to suppress anyone outside the Republican base – be they Independent, non-affiliated, or Democrat – from securing local office. This isn’t about partisanship being inherently good or bad; it’s about promoting fair representation and democracy.

Baertschiger – Yeah…now the other thing is the conservatives wants to change the county charter to be a public politic and a corporation in an agency of the state where the liberals want just to be an agency under the state.

Baertschiger’s statement seems to lack coherence, and it is crucial to rectify misconceptions that it may generate. Supporters of the “conservative” charter might claim it strips away the state’s power to govern Josephine County, but this claim is fundamentally flawed. It’s simply not feasible for a county charter to overrule or bypass state governance. Such misrepresentation can lead to confusion and misinformation among the constituents.

Meyer – Which is the current definition in the county right? So this would be changing the definition of the legal relationship of Josephine County to the state? Ok. 

Baertschiger – Yeah, and the conservative one adds a section for parental rights, granted rights, protected rights, stuff like that. And then the Democrats also want to remove the ability of the county to go into debt. That scares me a little bit too so um, people are gonna have a choice. If you want to have the best local control over the county I’d suggest you stop by the Republican headquarters and sign the petition. If you don’t care, well you’re gonna git whatever passes but people better get involved or they’re gonna wake up one day and say what happened to my county? Josephine County still has a much higher Republican voters than the Democrat but I will tell you they better not fall asleep. They better get involved and do things like sign the petition and try to push these things forward or it’s gonna be a much bigger struggle in the future.

Baertschiger’s remarks touch on the incorporation of certain rights into the conservative charter. However, it’s worth noting that legal experts have previously asserted that such provisions within a charter are, in fact, unenforceable. Thus, his commentary could potentially mislead constituents into believing these additions would have a more practical impact than they actually could. This is a crucial distinction that shouldn’t be overlooked in the discussion.

Meyer – There’s a Plato quote I like – people who chose not to get involved in politics are governed by their inferiors. Honestly. I think that’s something to take. So many people say ah I don’t want to get involved.

The quote Meyer is referring to is attributed to Plato and it goes: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” However, please note that while this quote is widely attributed to Plato, there’s some debate among scholars about its exact origin and whether Plato actually said it.

Baertschiger – My message to our conservative folks who listen to your show is you need to get involved.  

Here’s our message to Democrats and Independents:

Don’t be swayed by misleading narratives and divisive labels. Understand that these discussions about the county charter are not about partisanship or affiliations, they are about democracy, equal representation, and the right to participate fully in our government processes. This includes the ability for non-affiliated voters to vote in primaries and for local officials to be chosen based on their capacity to serve the community effectively rather than their party affiliation.

Remember, 29,000 non-affiliated voters stand to lose their primary election voting rights should the ‘conservative’ charter pass. This is not a minor issue; it’s about safeguarding democratic principles and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard.

The proposal to expand the Board of Commissioners and hire a professional county manager aims to ensure more equal representation across the county, addressing concerns from residents in outlying areas who currently feel unheard. This isn’t about ‘hiding spots’ or ‘communist influence’, it’s about making sure every voice in Josephine County matters.

Remember, you have a choice. Get involved in the democratic process. Understand the implications of the proposed charter changes, engage in the discussions, ask questions, and most importantly, cast your vote. This isn’t about partisan politics, it’s about the future of our county. The choices we make now will shape Josephine County for years to come.

Don’t let divisive narratives cloud the real issues at stake. Make sure your voice is heard and fight for fair, equal representation in Josephine County.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *