By Rhonda Petersen
Hill County Republicans failed in their efforts to gain a foothold in county government in Tuesday's election.
Democrats swept all of the contested county offices.
Democratic incumbent County Commissioner Doug Kaercher defeated Republican Byron Welter with a decisive margin, according to unofficial results. Kaercher received 66 percent of the votes cast in that race, compared to Welter's 31 percent
Welter blamed his loss on Hill County being a Democratic stronghold. "People are afraid of change," he added.
He said he was proud of his campaign and the fact that he avoided negative campaigning.
Kaercher echoed his opponent's pride in keeping the race for county commissioner clean. "I believe I ran a nice, fair campaign and congratulate my opponent on doing the same," he said.
Kaercher said being re-elected to a second six-year term on the Hill County Commission was "a vote of confidence to keep doing what I'm doing."
Incumbent treasurer/assessor Carrie Dickson easily defeated Republican write-in candidate Kathleen "Kitty" Galbavy-Williams.
In fact, Republican candidate Wanda Mork, who had earlier dropped out of the race, got more votes than Galbavy-Williams. Unofficial vote results show Galbavy-Williams with 830 votes, Mork with 1,207 votes and Dickson with 2,968.
Galbavy-Williams, who had lost to Dickson in the Democratic primary, said early today that she plans to run again in 2006.
"I think I did well considering I only had two weeks to campaign and worked full time," she said.
Galbavy-Williams expressed surprise at the number of votes Mork received. When Mork dropped out of the race last month, Republican leaders claimed that she quit so Dickson would be re-elected and Mork would keep her job. Mork is the deputy county treasurer/assessor.
Dickson said she is glad the election is over and pleased with the results.
"It will be good to get back to normal and concentrate on the tasks at hand," she said.
Republican Gail Solomon lost to deputy auditor Kathy Olson, a Democrat, in the race for Hill County auditor. Solomon received 40 percent of the vote while Olson received 56 percent.
Olson said she was glad she and her opponent were able to run a clean campaign. She said she has already begun her search for a replacement for the position of deputy auditor.
Republican Rozan Kerr lost in her effort to unseat Democrat Carol Bachini-Wood from her position as Hill County public administrator. Kerr received 36 percent of the votes while Bachini-Wood received 58 percent.
In the nonpartisan race for Hill County justice of the peace, Terry Stoppa defeated Ramon "Ray" Bergh by a large margin. Stoppa received 69 percent of the votes while Bergh received 25 percent. During the campaign, Stoppa said his 32 years in law enforcement made him well qualified for the position of justice of the peace. Bergh said his 24 years as a vocational counselor made him well-suited for the position.
Four Democrats were unopposed in the general election. Hill County Attorney David Rice, Hill County Superintendent of Schools Shirley Isbell, Hill County Clerk and Recorder Diane Mellem and Hill County Sheriff/Coroner Greg Szudera were re-elected to their respective positions.
Hill County Republican Central Committee Chairman Brad Lotton said it's difficult to get Republicans elected in Hill County since the population is predominantly Democratic. He added that local Republicans are examining what they can do differently in the next election to unlock the Democratic hold on county government.
Hill County Democratic Party Chair Debi Friede was unavailable for comment this morning.
Nearly 55 percent of eligible Hill County voters cast ballots in Tuesday's election. Mellem said that's a slight improvement over the last midterm elections in 1998 when Hill County had a 52 percent voter turnout. Voter turnout was especially strong in Gildford, Kremlin, Hingham, Inverness and Rudyard, where each precinct saw better than 65 percent turnout. The Box Elder and Rocky Boy precincts experienced lighter voter turnout, with 32 percent and 42 percent, respectively. In Havre, the two precincts that vote at Lincoln-McKinley School saw the lowest turnout while precincts that vote at Havre High School, Havre Middle School and Northstar Dodge had voter turnout topping 60 percent.