The Blaine and Hill County commissions soon will be looking at the list of three people nominated to fill an empty state lawmaker seat.
A joint committee of the Blaine and Hill County Republican Central Committees Tuesday selected three people from whom the commissions of the counties can appoint a replacement for the state Senate position vacated by Havre Republican Rowlie Hutton.
The committee, comprising three members of the Blaine County Republican Committee and three from the Hill County organization, selected Harlem insurance agent Don Richman as its top choice, followed by Havre businessman Craig Tilleman and Havre retiree Les Bender.
Hill County Republican Chair Andrew Brekke, who presided over the meeting, said at the end of Tuesday's meeting that he would write a letter announcing the three nominees this morning and send it to the Blaine and Hill County commissions. The commissions then likely will set interviews with the candidates, he said.
“Be around for them to meet with you, ” he told the candidates.
Blaine County commissioners Frank DePriest, a Republican, and Vic Miller, a Democrat, attended the meeting.
Brekke said the commission votes are weighted by the county in which the departing senator lived, and the vote ratio in the counties. As Hutton lived in Hill County and received more votes from Hill County, the computations give a ratio of the Hill County commissioners’ votes being worth more than 26 points each, while the Blaine County commissioners’ votes are worth nearly 7.3 points each.
After nearly two hours of listening to the candidates introduce themselves and answer questions from the committee and audience members, the committee went into a closed session for less than a half-hour to vote.
Brekke said before the meeting that their attorney had said the central committees are not obligated under law to conduct the meeting openly and could close the session.
When asked if it would be in the public interest for their deliberations on the candidates to be open, Brekke said, “No, I don’t think so. ”
Several committee and audience members asked the candidates if they were prepared to go full swing into the election next year — as replacements, they will not serve the entire full four-year term to which Hutton was elected last November.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, a first-term legislator who counted the votes for the committee during the closed session, said she learned that campaigning for office takes hours of work, knocking on doors, visiting with voters and listening to what they say.
Winning that election is crucial, with the Republicans holding only a slight majority in the Senate last session, she added.
“This seat was a bonus seat for the Republican Party this time, and we need to hold that seat. We need to keep it and keep it strong, ” she said.
If a candidate goes home and decides he doesn’t want to be spending hours a day campaigning and knocking on doors, he should withdraw now, Hansen said.
All four candidates said they plan to campaign and campaign hard in the next election if selected. Richman said he already has been talking to people who have agreed to help in the campaing if he is selected.
Ruben McKinney of Havre took fourth in the votes and did not make the list to be forwarded to the county commissions, which will have 15 days after receiving the nominees to select one as Hutton’s replacement.
Retired Harlem farmer Douglas Stuart withdrew his candidacy Monday.
Blaine County Republican Central Committee Chair Richard Cronk announced at the start of Tuesday’s meeting that he also was withdrawing.
Hutton announced in February that he was leaving his job as preacher at the Fifth Avenue Christian Church in Havre and would resign his Senate seat at the end of his session. Hutton was elected in November 2010.
The Montana Secretary of State received his resignation letter July 18, when the resignation became official and the seat was vacated.
Hutton and his wife, Suzette, have moved to Nebraska, where he will serve as a preacher at a church there and the couple will work as head residents at a Christian college.