The two nominees who were not selected for a vacant state Senate seat answered a series of questions and made comments on policy and social issues, receiving compliments from Blaine and Hill county commissioners although not enough votes.
Retired state employee Les Bender of Havre and Harlem insurance agent Don Richman answered questions for more than 90 minutes in a meeting with the commissioners. After the question-and-answer period, the commissioners selected Craig Tilleman, vice president of Tilleman Motor Co. of Havre, to take the place of Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, who resigned in July.
Tilleman, who was meeting with General Motors representatives and touring factories and facilities in Detroit, did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. He said this morning he would accept the appointment.
Bender said in his introductory comments that his goal was to serve the residents of Blaine and Hill counties. He said he wants to bring money to the counties and cities to care for infrastructure and pay for services, including using money from the state coal tax trust fund and by pushing oil and gas exploration and development.
“I want to get money to come in to counties, not just Hill and Blaine, but all of Montana, ” he said.
Richman said he originally was not interested in running, but Hutton persuaded him to try to take the seat. He agreed with the core issues of Hutton’s own 2010 campaign, including family values like ending abortion and a push to get money and businesses into eastern Montana, as well as trying to reduce government.
“Rowlie is some awfully big shoes to try to fill, ” Richman said. “I’m not going to attempt to do that, but I do stand with him on the issues. ”
Both men said they would work to support efforts to repair and rehabilitate the St. Mary Diversion and Conveyance works that supply much of the water in the Milk River in most years.
Bender said one issue is making sure Canada is releasing enough water into Montana for irrigators, municipalities and recreationists to use.
Richman said, as a former Milk River irrigator himself, he knows the importance of repairing the diversion. While he supports smaller government, certain issues need funding and support and repairing the diversion is one, he said.
Both men also said supporting funding for Montana State University-Northern is one of their priorities.
“What we need to do is keep Bozeman from taking all the money all the time, ” Bender said, adding that recruiting more students and finding revenue to fund the university is key.
Richman said that, with a wife who is a Northern graduate and being an alumnus himself, the university is very important to him.
Working to fund a new building for the automotive and diesel program, a key issue for Hutton, would be one of his priorities, he added.
“NMC(the university) is very important, not just to the Havre, but to the entire Hi-Line, ” he added.
Bender said finding money to maintain, repair and improve infrastructure also is one of his key issues.
“We need more money coming in, ” he said.
Richman said he was not sure how to answer that issue. With the projects between Havre and Chinook coming to a close, he is not sure if that money was well-spent, he said.
When asked about poverty in the district, both men said they know there are homeless people in Senate District 17, the district in question in northern Blaine and Hill counties, and that they know the difference between poor, middle-class and the wealthy.
Bender said he never has been wealthy, and would now classify himself as middle-class. While growing up on his family’s farm and ranch in Rosebud County, they always had food and clothes, but all members of the family spent long hours in the fields, he said.
Richman said he doesn’t consider himself wealthy, although some might, but he has gone through all phases.
He and his father were operating a John Deere dealership in 1980 when it went out of business, Richman said. While he was trying to move into a new industry, working as an insurance agent, he went into treatment for drug and alcohol addiction — he has been clean since 1983 — however he lost everything but his family before succeeding in insurance and taking ownership of the business, Richman said.
Both Blaine County Commissioner Delores Plumage, who posed the question, and Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette thanked Bender and Richman for their candor on the answer.
Both men also said opposing abortion and the supporting the sanctity of marriage were key issues to their candidacy.