By Tim Eberly
Richard Pierson has spent the last 2 years as a single father raising four children. Last August, Pierson's mother, Marie Pierson, nearly died in a car accident east of Malta that killed the driver.
She spent nearly three weeks in the hospital in intensive care with seven broken ribs and a dislocated left shoulder. Today, Richard Pierson helps take care of 71-year-old Marie, who is still recovering from her injuries.
Suffice it to say, Pierson is keeping his campaign for the Ward 2 Havre City Council seat in perspective. Pierson faces Republican Jerry Hanson in Tuesday's election.
Though he would cherish a seat on the City Council if elected to a third consecutive term, Pierson has equally important duties at home.
"I'm head cook and bottle-washer (at home)," said Pierson, adding that if he loses, "I'll be able to spend more time with my kids but it doesn't mean that I'll stop finding ways to help the community."
One difference from his past elections is that Pierson is facing competition; both of his previous elections were won without opposition. In the last few months, Pierson has realized an opponent on the ballot benefits more than just the community. "I prefer running opposed because it's made me realize I need to get out there," said Pierson, who faces Republican Jerry Hanson. "It's been real aggressive."
During his campaign, Pierson has "knocked on every door in Ward 2," he said.
It has also forced the veteran councilmember to learn the nuances of politics in reverse order.
"It was a new situation," said Pierson, a material specialist at General Electric for the last five years. "I had to go talk to people about how to run a campaign."
Hanson is ready to plunge into the deep end of politics. The 45-year-old family man, who was raised on a grain and livestock farm north of Havre, got his feet wet in community service as a member of the Jaycees from 1990-95. Immediately after, Hanson served as chairman of the Great Northern Fair Board until 2000.
"The City Council would be another stepping stone," said Hanson, a 1976 graduate of Havre High School. "I'm hoping that people remember me from the Jaycees. I'm hoping that people remember me from the (fair board)."
Before the last election, Hanson fielded a call from Brad Lotton, chairman of the Hill County Republican Party, urging him to register as a Ward 2 candidate. But it took four years Lotton called Hanson this year, too to warm up to the prospect.
"The first time, he probably caught me off-guard. I hadn't thought about it too much," Hanson said. "But after visiting with Brad and the community (this year), I decided that it would be worthwhile to give it a shot."
Hanson also got a nudge in the right direction from an in-law. Don Ramage, the father of Hanson's wife of 24 years, Linda, worked as an aide for Montana Govs. Stan Stephens and Marc Racicot, and U.S. Rep. Rick Hill.
"I worked with (Ramage) and I got a lot of positive advice from him," Hanson said.
Both candidates have dedicated their campaign time to door-to-door visits in Ward 2.
Pierson piled his children into his ultra-violet purple 1972 Volkswagen Bug a car he rebuilt in 1998 after hitting a cow and used as a mobile advertisement during the Festival Days Parade. In effect, Pierson blended quality family time with his campaign efforts.
"They enjoy riding in it," said Pierson of his family. Sixteen-year-old Haley is the oldest, followed by Steve, 12, then 9-year-old Ricky and Mikayla, 6.
Name recognition and familiarity with the city's beaurocracy may give Pierson a leg up on election day, but the longtime Havre resident is not resting on his laurels.
"I do understand the problems the city faces," Pierson said. "I know what it costs to run a fire department or to fix the city streets." But, Pierson added, "I'm not taking Jerry Hanson's campaign lightly. If I didn't believe Jerry was a legitimate threat, I wouldn't be out there campaigning."
Like Pierson, Hanson has also done his leg work, visiting most of the residences in his ward with his family. He hopes he struck a chord.
"The biggest thing is getting people to the polls," Hanson said. "I just think it's time for a different way of thinking; new blood and new ideas."
Ward 2 includes the Highland Park area.