After some confusion at a Tuesday night meeting, a Havre businessman said this morning that he will accept his selection to take a vacant state Senate seat.
Craig Tilleman, vice president of Tilleman Motor Co. in Havre, said in a telephone interview from Detroit this morning that he would accept his appointment to take the place of Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, who resigned in July. He said he will start campaigning for the 2012 election immediately.
Tilleman said he doesn’t want the Republican Central committees of Hill and Blaine counties and those counties’ commissions to have to make another selection.
“I don’t want them to have to go through that again, ” said Tilleman during a short break while meeting with General Motors representatives and touring a factory in Detroit.
He said he plans to be at the Republican booth at the Sugarbeet Festival in Chinook this weekend.
The county commissioners from Blaine and Hill counties split in their secret-ballot vote to select Tilleman as Hutton's replacement. Hutton has taken a new job in Nebraska.
After listening to Harlem insurance agent Don Richman and retired state employee Les Bender of Havre answer questions and make comments for more than an hour and a half, the combined commissions chose Tilleman with 52.08 weighted votes.
Richman received 47.91 votes and Bender received 0.
Hill County Commission Chair Mike Wendland said during the meeting that Tilleman had told the Hill County commissioners that he had business with General Motors in Detroit, and could not attend the meeting. The commissioners had talked with Tilleman at that time, he said.
But after the meeting, Hill County Republican Chair Andrew Brekke and the members of the Blaine County Commission said Tilleman had told them he was withdrawing his name as a candidate.
Brekke was attempting to contact Tilleman in Detroit after the meeting, but had not reached him after the vote and the groups’ discussion of Tilleman’s possible withdrawal.
Brekke said this morning he had contacted Tilleman and knew he would accept the position. He said the vote was a little surprising, but he is glad the party had good candidates and good participation at both the Havre meeting and the meeting in Chinook when the three nominees were selected.
“Now we’re looking forward to the 2012 election, ” Brekke said.
Blaine County Commissioner Dolores Plumage, a Democrat, said after Tuesday’s meeting that Tilleman had told the commissioners in a conference call Monday that he was withdrawing, but he had submitted nothing in writing.
Blaine County Commissioner Vic Miller, also a Democrat, said the commissioners had asked Tilleman to fax them a withdrawl notice, but had received nothing before the meeting Tuesday evening to select a replacement for Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, who resigned in July. The commissioners cannot take action without something in writing, Miller said.
Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette, a Democrat, said that while he was talking to the Hill County Commissioners to say he would not be at Tuesday’s meeting. Tilleman said he did not want to campaign next year — Hutton’s replacement’s term will end in 2012 — but that she never heard him say he was withdrawing.
Tilleman has at least one opponent in the 2012 general election. Greg Jergeson of Chinook, who had to leave his Senate seat in 2003 due to term limits and then was forced from his subsequent position as chair of the Public Service Commission last year also due to term limits, filed paperwork with the Commissioner of Political Practices Monday declaring he intends to file as a candidate next year.
A series of candidates for the Republican committees’ consideration have withdrawn from the race.
Retired Harlem farmer Douglas Stuart withdrew his candidacy the day before the committees selected Tilleman, Richman and Bender, and Blaine County Republican Central Committee Chair Richard Cronk announced at the start of the Aug. 30 meeting that he also was withdrawing.
The committees selected from a pool of four, picking their top three prospects to send to the commissioners with remaining candidate, Ruben McKinney of Havre, coming in fourth.
In the vote Tuesday, the Hill County commissioners had more pull than their Blaine County counterparts.
Because Hutton was a Hill County resident and received a higher percentage of votes in Hill County, under state law Hill County commissioners cast 26.04 weighted votes each, while the votes of Blaine County commissioners counted for 7.29 each.