By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Tuesday marks a turning point in the race for Hill County commissioner as voters decide which of the three Democratic candidates will face a lone Republican and an independent in the November general election.
Havre firefighter Mike Anderson, farmer and Hill County reserve deputy Tim Herron, and area rancher and implement salesman Jeff LaVoi are the three Democratic candidates. Republican Jody Manuel and independent Wyatt Dahlin are also running for the six-year term. Incumbent Commissioner Pat Conway, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election.
During recent interviews, the three Democratic candidates shared their views on a number of issues, including U.S. Highway 2, health care, water use, and economic development.
Anderson, 42, is the only one of the three who said he believes widening Highway 2 to four lanes will provide a significant economic boost to Hi-Line communities.
LaVoi, 58, said he thinks the project might attract more tourists to the area, but that the impact on other types of economic development would be minimal.
"I think in time it will become a reality," he said. "For the immediate need, I don't see a real urgency to do it. The only immediate impact would be to the tourist trade. I don't see it happening so much in industry."
Herron, 43, said he does not believe four lanes will have a measurable economic impact, but supports widening some sections of the highway for safety reasons.
"I don't feel that by expanding it you're going to change anything," Herron said. "The nature of the Hi-Line is the nature of the Hi-Line. There are some congested areas on Highway 2, but we don't have the traffic needs to justify a four-lane highway. We do need to do some things to make it safer."
Herron and Anderson both said they support an effort to study health needs in Hill County, and would likely support a proposed community health center that would use a sliding-fee scale to provide health care to low-income patients.
LaVoi said that if health needs are not being met locally, efforts should be made to expand services at Northern Montana Health Care.
"In campaigning, I haven't heard complaints that the hospital we have cannot meet their needs. If there are needs, the first step is to look at expansion there, rather than looking at building a competing health facility," he said.
Herron said: "At the present time, the numbers I've heard being thrown around are that there are 4,000 people in our county without health insurance. With the economy the way it is, that number is probably going to increase. I feel that we do need community-based health care based on income levels. We need to provide health care for everybody of all income levels. I totally support that effort."
To be successful, the center would have to be coupled with an aggressive preventative maintenance health care program, he added.
Anderson said he supports such a center for economic as well as health reasons.
"The center would benefit the elderly and low-income patients, and would bring jobs to our community," he said.
The three candidates all support a proposed special events center in Havre. Proponents of the center - which might be used for sporting events, concerts and conventions - are studying whether Havre could support the center and looking for possible ways to fund it.
LaVoi said the project must be a regional effort.
"It needs to be a Hi-Line project, and you need to look at what would be the best way to fund it from there," he said.
Herron said he also supports pursuing outside funding sources to make it happen.
"I support the idea of a multi-use facility in Havre. I think it would be much needed, but we need to spend a lot of time studying it first. We need to approach it cautiously, so that ultimately the taxpayer will decide if such a facility should be built," he said.
Anderson said a bond issue might be an appropriate funding source.
On the subject of economic development, Anderson said his vision is largely centered on agriculture.
"We need to look at value-added ag products, alternative crops and biodeisel, ethanol plants, wind farms. With gas going over $2 a gallon, these new ideas are becoming more feasible," he said.
LaVoi said: "When we see the number of people that we do going elsewhere for health care, when you see automobiles that are purchased someplace else, those are examples of things we can do better.
"Politically it's fashionable to talk about economic development. But that's dependent on having the necessary infrastructure. The money that we spend to put that infrastructure in place, not only do we build a community we can be proud of in the meantime, but we also prepare ourselves for possible economic development in the future."
The candidates agreed that the Hi-Line needs an adequate water supply, whether that means rebuilding the St. Mary Diversion or developing other sources.
"If we don't have water, we have nothing," LaVoi said. "If (repairing the diversion)'s the best alternative to securing an ample and safe water supply, I would definitely be in favor of doing it. I would like to look at any other options that are there."
Herron said he supports rebuilding the diversion, but that alternative water sources, like Tiber Reservoir, need to be looked at for future needs.
"We need to provide a reliable water source for the Hi-Line community. We have to use caution in that we don't know what the future use of the Milk River will be," he said, adding that several Indian tribes have not yet finalized their water compacts.
"We don't know what usage will be left in the Milk River. We need to pursue other sources of water for the future because we need a sustainable water supply for this area," he said.
Anderson said rebuilding the St. Mary Diversion is critical.
"If the diversion were to fail, it would mean economic disaster, not only for Hill County, but for the entire Hi-Line," Anderson said.
Anderson and LaVoi said they oppose legislation passed in recent years which transferred control of some duties from county government to the state level, including some tax collection and welfare benefit distribution. Herron said that generally he does not oppose such measures because they take some financial burdens away from the counties.
Anderson, a Havre native who describes himself as "young, energetic and proactive," is president of the Montana State Fireman's Association, having been elected on an annual basis since 1996. The association, which has about 450 members statewide, works to preserve the retirement plan of professional firefighters in Montana, Anderson said.
Anderson is also a member of the Montana State Council of Professional Firefighters and is a lobbyist for that labor group.
He plans to retire from the Fire Department and step down from the labor organization if he is elected.
Anderson cited his ability to work with other people and experience working with budgets as his primary attributes in the race.
Herron, who says he is "conservative, considerate and conscientious," has farmed and ranched south of Havre since 1987 when he took over his parents' agricultural operation. He attended Havre schools and has an associate degree in business management from Miles City Community College. He has served on the Hill County Conservation District Committee and the Northern Agricultural Research Center Advisory Council. He also served for six years on the St. Jude Thaddeus School Board and St. Jude's Finance Council.
LaVoi, 58, owns a small ranch in the Bear Paw Mountains and works in the sales department at Moodie Implement Co. in Havre. He said his strongest attributes are his well-rounded education, good common sense, and a caring attitude.
LaVoi was raised on a small farm in Minnesota. He spent four years in the U.S. Navy and has a degree in agricultural business from the University of Minnesota-Crookston. By age 25 he was the manager of a John Deere dealership. In 1981 he and a partner purchased a John Deere implement company in Havre, and he moved here to manage it. Five years later LaVoi moved to Grand Forks to run a second John Deere dealership he had purchased with his partner. He returned to Hill County in 1997.
Campaign finance reports show that Anderson has raised and spent the most money of any of the Democratic candidates. As of May 23, he had raised more than $6,500 and spent nearly $5,000.
Lavoi's campaign finance report shows that he has raised $3,550. Of that, $3,000 is in the form of loans.
Herron has chosen not to solicit donations for his campaign.
"I've refused money from people," he said. "I just had it in my mind that I would do this on my own. I saddled this horse myself, so I'll ride it myself. People have better things to spend their money on, I feel."
The salary for a Hill County commissioner is $34,865 a year.