Correction: Bob Kaul has served one term on City Council. The print version of this story in Wednesday's Havre Daily News incorrectly said he has served two terms.
As the nation watches nearly a dozen candidates wrestle for a position in next year’s presidential election, Havre’s got one City Council race heating up as this year’s election day quickly shortens in the two-week wait for counting votes on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
The most closely watched race is the only race at all, between Democratic incumbent and council veteran Bob Kaul and his Republican challenger Rick Dow.
Kaul has served on the council for one term, first getting elected in the 2007 council election. He has served as the chair of the city’s Safety Committee and advocated for the expansion of the hours at the port of entry at Wild Horse.
Dow moved to Havre a few years ago. He quickly started following local politics, until he made the plunge into participation this fall, announcing a run for a seat on the Havre City Council.
Dow has said that his main inspiration for running came from the council passing an ordinance this year to ban the use of cellphones while driving. He believes the local government has gone too far and wants to do something about it.
Kaul said earlier in the year that this would be his last term, but as the deadline for filing approached he said he had a number of discussions with his wife and decided he had one more term in him and would seek re-election.
While in-person voting may not be available until Nov. 8, mail-in ballots have already been sent out and need to be returned before election day to be counted.
The Havre Daily News sat down with Kaul in his home last week and with Dow in the newspaper’s office on Tuesday to talk with the candidates about their thoughts on this election, the state of the city of Havre and their respective values.
1. Why should people take notice of this off-year election with only one contested race?
Kaul: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a presidential election, county, city or state election. You should participate in it because that’s part of the reason we are a government for the people, by the people, you know. And in order to stay that way, people have to stay in tune with what’s going on.
Dow: We have, through a number of decisions, I feel as though the city council has become more and more active as a governing body. It goes back to one of the founders’ quotes, everybody tries to lay claim to it, whether it was Thoreau or Paine, but “the government that governs least, governs best. ” And I’ve seen an encroachment of this council and that’s the reason why I’m running and I would hope people would support that feeling. I know it’s out there. It was reflected in the 2010 results, the mid-term election.
2. What goals would you have as a member of the Havre City Council?
Kaul: I don’t know if I would say there is any one specific thing. but I do know that the city council of the city of Havre is going to have to face some very tough situations up here, in the next couple of years. And I honestly believe that some of that has to be infrastructure and when I say infrastructure I’m talking water, sewer, streets, sidewalks, all of that. And I believe that the council needs to look at trying to find a way to get started on this because most of our system is 100 years or older. And it’s falling apart, and we definitely need to attack that problem.
Dow: People ask me, “Well, what do you want to do? ” And my quip is, “Well, what could I undo, or help to undo? ” I think the cellphone ban was an overreach and I don’t think that should have passed. What I like about the council is that wasn’t a partisan vote. The donkeys and elephants don’t really play. If you look at that vote, it was a mixed vote for and a mixed vote against. So looking at some of these issues and trying to maintain the focus of the council is what I would lend to that body.
3. What is your response to the common attitude that Havre is falling apart?
Kaul: I honestly believe that in order to rectify these problems, you have one of two choices. You either go with a tax increase, which I am totally against, or you go with an SID, Special Improvement District. And if you look at the two of them, they’re both basically a tax increase over a long period of time. And I just don’t honestly know or believe which way we have to go, but something has to be done. I’m not in favor of paying any more taxes more than anybody else is. But at the same time, when I turn on the faucet, I want water. When I flush the toilet, I want it to go out. So we’ve got to do a balancing act. We have to figure out what way or the other of doing this that is equitable and even for everyone.
Dow: As far as the infrastructure problems that we have, and that kind of goes to annexation and the city pool and all these issues that we have right now. We’ve got these pounding bodies against each, as far as one suing another and what not. And that doesn’t help put the money into the infrastructure. That goes to court costs. I think we have to take a step back and take a look at our population, look at the census results from the last two census we have had and say, “You know, is there an opportunity to merge the two bodies, city and county. Most, if not all, of their functions, we’ve got a lot of redundancy, and if you look at 17,000 people in Hill County, with Hingham being an incorporated town, that’s different, but the city of Havre having just under 10,000. You’ve got eight people on the council, the mayor and three county commissioners. We have 12 elected officials for 17,000 people. Look at Cascade County down there, with Great Falls. They have five people including the mayor on their city council and three commissioners. They have 1 to 10,000 and we have got less than a thousand people per elected official. So there are some opportunities and we have to take a look at that in order to be a little more efficient.
4. What do you see as the main issues driving this election?
Kaul: I don’t care who you are, if you’re sitting on the City Council and you’re asked to vote on something you have to do your homework before you get there. You have to know your facts. You have to know the people in your area. You have to know their philosophy on this stuff. And you have to vote for the betterment of the city of Havre, not your own feelings. You just absolutely can’t take your feelings into the meeting with you. You have to go in with good information, with facts, figures and numbers. And again, I’ve said many times, you’ve got to pick your fights. So you need to do your homework before you start swinging.
Dow: From everyone I’ve talked to, at the doors I’ve knocked on, people from my friends and what not to people who I don’t agree with, I see a continuation of people just kind of waking up and moving on that 2010 results, saying, “You know what, OK, we’ve got a little too much government going on here. We need to be a little more responsible. ” So I would say that would be the driving issue.
5. Where do you see Havre in 10 years?
Kaul: What I would like to see is more emphasis and more everything put on by our local business community, to be more business friendly. I would like to see population increase due to what we have to offer. I understand that yes, we don’t have a lot to offer right now, but that can change. If every individual went out and tried to accomplish something every day, instead of a half a dozen people over here trying and a half a dozen over there trying and a half a dozen over here trying. If they would all pool together, we get way more done than if you do if you’re striking out on your own. And I honestly believe that Havre has the potential to do that. It’s just that we’ve got to, to take a quote from somebody else, you’ve got to go among them. You’ve got to talk. You have got to keep people moving forward. You can’t just sit back and say, “well, let so-and-so do it, ” because if you let so-and-so do it, it won’t ever get done.
Dow: As a whole, in Montana, two-and-a-half dollars for every dollar we pay in tax comes back. Everybody’s favorite word these days is sustainable. That is not sustainable. So we need to figure out what we have up here that we can utilize better. Are we going to do it all at once? No. But just like if you’re cutting back on coffee, you can either go from eight cups a day cold turkey. That’s very painful. Or you can just .. scale it back. If we can get away from having Northern be the bio-diesel, it seems like there’s no, aside from BNSF. Why isn’t Chevron here? Why isn’t Exxon here? Why don’t we lead the way of refining up here all the stuff that’s coming in from the Bakken by railway and mixing it, as far as the chemical I don’t know, but making the blends here and having a value added. That’s the way we’re going to do it. Not electing more people at the local level, state and national level, who are going to get us, who are connected and can get us more handouts. That’s not the way.