By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Three Hill County natives with three different backgrounds are in the race for county commissioner. In November voters will elect one of them to fill the six-year post that Pat Conway will vacate when he retires next year.
Independent Wyatt Dahlin, 32, is a truck driver for the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. Democrat Mike Anderson, 43, is a Havre firefighter. Republican Jody Manuel, 34, is a rancher and landowner.
Dahlin's candidacy is based on two related principles, nonpartisanship and his belief in his strength as a listener. In addition, Dahlin said as commissioner he would stress fiscal responsibility.
"I'm a working man, have been for years, drawing wages. I take spending money very seriously," Dahlin said. "My number one priority as county commissioner is seeing that our tax dollars are spent effectively."
When Anderson talks about his experiences in public service and politics, he often returns to his long history with the Montana State Fireman's Association.
"I've represented the firefighters for over 18 years in Helena and fully understand how the political system works here in Montana," Anderson said.
Manuel said that in the past three years the pace of his life has changed. Now he has an opportunity to serve the county and he said that service is the sole reason for his candidacy.
"I would have nothing to gain personally from the position. I already have a job that I love. This is not something I have to do. I'm in it for the will of the people," Manuel said.
Dahlin's ability as a listener, he said, comes from the variety of his work experience.
"Over the years, I've worked with many people on different jobs and learned how to get along well with others to achieve common goals," Dahlin said. "I also believe this gives me a strong background to represent all of the variety of people in Hill County."
Dahlin has worked in the maintenance department of BNSF in Havre since 1998. During his time at Havre High School and Montana State University-Northern, Dahlin worked on his family's farm and ranch southwest of Havre. He also worked in construction, carpentry and roofing and spent seven months in Australia in an agricultural exchange program.
Dahlin said that both personal experience and education have prepared him for being careful with a county budget. As part of his agriculture degree from MSU-Northern he took accounting and business classes that would help him understand and balance the county budget.
"Everything I have, I own," Dahlin said.
Two issues Dahlin said he has been watching are water availability and school consolidation.
He has attended meetings about the St. Mary Diversion and believes its important to "look into how much water we are getting out of Canada."
Dahlin said he understand the reasons for school consolidations, such as the ongoing merger of KG and Blue Sky schools, but he is concerned about the eventual outcome.
"People are for getting (the schools) together, but they're concerned for the future after this. What is next? Are they going to have to start busing their kids all the way to Havre?" Dahlin said.
He believes that as a young man, a fast learner and an independent, he can fairly represent Hill County residents.
Dahlin is unmarried. He enjoys playing the guitar for friends and family as well as recreational boating and fishing.
Anderson has been a member of the Havre Fire Department for 23 years and is president of the Montana State Fireman's Association. He has emphasized this experience in his campaign, but his resume includes a long list of community and political commitments.
Anderson has been involved with the Hill County Democratic Party for 20 years. He has been vice chair for three years and was elected eastern chairman of the state Democratic executive board. He also spent three years on the Havre school board. He said all of these positions have given him experience balancing a budget.
A member of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Anderson worked to create a wheelchair accessible summer camp in Beaver Creek Park for children suffering from the disease. He teamed with Bear Paw Development Corp. to obtain CTEP grants for ramps and sidewalks to complete the project.
He said he will draw from his experiences in addressing the county economy.
"Some of the concerns I have in our county are the declining population, the declining enrollment at our schools," Anderson said.
In response, Anderson said he will encourage county residents to participate in new technologies such as ethanol and biodiesel.
Anderson has a strategy. "We need to build co-ops with our agriculture community to investigate what crops we need to start planting that can be used in the production of ethanol and biodiesel," he said. "None of us can do this alone any longer," he added.
Anderson said he too is concerned about water availability, especially the proposed St. Mary Diversion renovation. "It's a $100 million project ... people can't afford it," Anderson said. "What we'll need to do is lobby the state or the federal government to get this fixed. If it were to fail, it would be disastrous, not only for agriculture, but for the cities that use it for domestic water supply."
When Anderson thinks about his hopes for Hill County, he said he does so with his family in mind. He is married with two children and three grandchildren.
"I want to make things better in Hill County for my grandchildren so they won't have to leave to get a good job," he said.
Manuel has been a private rancher and has managed property for 14 years. He said that as a business owner and a member of the Fifth Avenue Christian Church long-range planning committee, he is confident in his abilities to balance a budget.
Recently, the Manuels sold their cattle, giving Jody time to focus on other things. He has become devoted to the idea of serving the county where his family has lived for generations.
Manuel has some ideas about how Beaver Creek Park could be better managed.
"The park is the only county entity that comes close to paying for itself," Manuel said.
Manuel said small increases in the cabin, grazing and park user fees could make the difference. The county might even be able to employ a second person to manage the park.
Water, roads and law enforcement are other issues that Manuel named as priorities. He said the county should look into joining the Rocky Boy/North Central Water System project, as well as exploring any and all possibilities for expanding water availability.
In addition, Manuel said he would be interested in studying the number of deputies employed by the Hill County Sheriff's Office to be sure that it has enough officers to adequately patrol the county.
Manuel has noticed that some of the building projects he has been involved in were delayed due to a shortage of labor. Manuel proposed a training program. He said it could provide an alternative option to the military for high school graduates who don't want to go on to college, an alternative that would also keep them in Havre.
Manuel is married, with three children, and he and his wife are in the process of adopting a fourth child from China. His children homeschool. In the future, he said his family would talk about when to enroll the children in public schools.
"I can't quite picture my kids not being Blue Ponies," Manuel said. He, like Anderson and Dahlin, is a graduate of Havre High School.
All three candidates support a multipurpose facility for the county, all are in favor of four lanes for U.S. Highway 2, and all support the county's recent decisions to fund a mosquito district.