(Update: Adding Video, Commissioners' decision, comments from commissioners, OSU-Cascades political science professor)
Commissioners determine expense not worth it for single ballot measure
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- On the agenda at Monday afternoon's Deschutes County Board of Commissioner's meeting: non-partisanship.
The three commissioners, including a newcomer who raised the issue, are looking toward the future, when one day their seats might not be affiliated with a political party.
“We have the opportunity to make running for office, a simpler, shorter and less expensive process,” Commissioner Phil Chang, a Democrat, said.
Chang, the newest member of the board, campaigned on making the position of county commissioner non-partisan last November.
Judy Stiegler, a political science instructor at OSU-Cascades and Central Oregon Community College, told NewsChannel 21 earlier Monday, “I think there’s a good possibility that if a measure like this gets on the ballot, it could very well pass.”
As it turns out, it just won’t happen this year.
A ballot measure to make the position of county commissioner non-partisan would cost $140,000, to conduct the election, if it didn't share the special election ballot with anything else.
So the commissioners decided that sum of money for one ballot measure was impractical.
Republican Commissioner Tony DeBone said, “What a shame. It sounded like there may be an opportunity to get this to an election, and if putting it in some point in time. But that $140,000 just doesn’t sound like the right investment, at this point in time.”
But that doesn't mean the idea goes away. Instead, it might get considered for the next regular ballot, the May 2022 primary.
Across the state, 26 of Oregon’s 36 counties have non-partisan county commission seats, including neighbors Crook and Jefferson.
Stiegler, a former Democratic state representative from Bend, said after numerous failed attempts over the years, now may be the time in Deschutes County.
“The face of the county is changing” from its more conservative past, she said. “It has become a much more moderate county.”
“I’ve been in office for 10 years, run for office three times -- and it has really changed,” he told NewsChannel 21 before the meeting.
Registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans in Deschutes County, according to the county clerk’s office. But right behind the two major parties are non-affiliated voters, representing near a third of total voters.
But for partisan races, those unaffiliated voters can’t vote in primaries.
“There’s that other third, unaffiliated, independent -- there’s other parties too, we can acknowledge, that want to see the names on the ballot in the primary,” DeBone said.
While the election expense is restricting the board now, the thought isn’t dead for later elections, or through a citizen petition effort.