Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Jayson Jacoby


For the second time, Dick Fleming of Baker City will challenge incumbent Fred Warner Jr. for the job of chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners.

But this race will be different.

The two will face off in the primary election rather than the general.

That's because Warner, a former Democrat who is seeking his fourth four-term term as commission chairman, switched to the Republican party earlier this year.

To retain his seat, Warner, 59, will have to defeat Fleming, 63, (and any other Republicans who register; so far none has) in the May primary and also prevail over any Democratic challengers in the general election.

In the November 2010 general election, Warner, running as a Democrat, narrowly defeated Fleming, a Republican.

Warner received 3,543 votes, 50.8 percent, to Fleming's 3,374 votes, 48.4 percent.

The rematch this May will be different in another major way: only registered Republicans will have the Fleming-Warner race on their ballot.

Oregon uses a "closed" primary election system, which means that for partisan positions such as county commissioner, only registered Republicans get to pick their party's nominee for the general election.

If any Democrats register as candidates, that race would be decided solely by registered Democrats.

In the November 2010 general election, by contrast, all registered voters had a chance to choose between Fleming and Warner.

So far Warner and Fleming are the only candidates to file for the chairman's position.

Incumbent Mark Bennett and Bill Harvey, both Republicans, have filed for Bennett's seat on the three-member Board of Commissioners.

Bennett was appointed to his current position in May after Commissioner Carl Stiff resigned for health reasons.

No Democrats have filed for either position.

The third current commissioner, Tim L. Kerns, was re-elected in 2012 and his term continues through the end of 2016.

Fleming, a former public works director for Baker City, is a rangeland manager and consulting engineer.

He said he decided to file as a candidate because he believes Warner has not been a vocal advocate of logging and other natural resource industries in the county.

Fleming said that after he lost to Warner in the November 2010 election, he told Warner that if Warner emphasized natural resource issues during the next four years, "I won't have anything to say."

But if not, Fleming said he told Warner that he would challenge him again in 2014.

"He has made some token efforts but that's about all I would consider it," Fleming said of Warner.

Citing Warner's relatively narrow victory in 2010 - 169 votes out of almost 7,000 cast - Fleming said he believes he has a good chance of unseating the incumbent.

"Last time I was having health issues that limited my campaigning; those are gone," Fleming said.

He also believes that the primary election system, with only registered Republicans deciding between himself and Warner, gives him an advantage since he ran as a Republican in 2010 but Warner was a registered Democrat.

The primary election will be May 20, 2014. The deadline to file as a candidate is March 11.

Even if no Democratic candidate files for the primary election, a Democrat could qualify for the November general election ballot as a write-in candidate, County Clerk Tami Green said.