By Tim Leeds
Some high-powered hitters attended the Hill County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner on Sunday with one common message continue the new trend of Hill County electing Republicans.
Young people are moving to the Republican Party because they are looking for "people who stand for the right thing and do things right for America," U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns said. " Values count. They're looking for leadership of moral character."
Burns, the featured speaker at this year's dinner, said more young people are showing up at large Republican gatherings in Washington, D.C., including President Reagan's 91st birthday last week.
"We're enjoying great popularity because we're doing things for the right reason," he said.
Eight Republican candidates spoke at the annual dinner. Speakers cited Republican victories in recent elections to show that with support, even in the traditionally Democratic stronghold of Hill County, they can win the vote. Speakers included Supreme Court Justice Jim Rice, Public Service Commission Chair Gary Feland, and Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate Brad Johnson and state Sen. Mike Taylor.
Speakers noted several Republican victories in Hill County. Havre elected Republican Gary Schubert to the City Council. Merlin Wolery upset popular Democratic Rep. Antoinette "Toni" Hagener in the 2000 election, and Havre elected its first Republican mayor, Bob Rice, in 2 decades.
Brad Lotton, chair of the Hill County Republicans, told the crowd packed into the Duck Inn's Olympic Room that the party needs to support its candidates if they are going to win. He asked for cash donations to fund campaigns, and volunteers to help in the campaigns.
Lotton said it was support from people like Russ and Cathy Luke that helped Republicans win in the last few elections. The Lukes posted a sign in their restaurant, Pizza Pro, supporting Rice for mayor. Two local well-knowwn Democrat said that was inappropriate for a business and said they were boycotting Pizza Pro.
"Did they run you out of business?" Lotton asked.
"We almost ran out of food," Russ Luke replied.
Lotton presented the Lukes with "The Golden Backbone Award," made by Wolery, for their support of the party. Wolery later presented Lotton with "The Golden Jawbone Award" for his work at functions like the Lincoln Day Dinner and "jawing with the press" when he's not working functions, Wolery said.
Johnson and Taylor both said it's time to get Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who has represented Montana for 28 years, out of Washington. Johnson said before the dinner that people are concerned about the same issues he addressed during the 1990 campaign he lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Pat Williams, forcing him to question whether Baucus is doing his job.
Taylor, Johnson's opponent in the primary, said people ask him if losing Baucus' seniority in the Senate won't hurt Montana. Not when Baucus doesn't represent the needs of Montana, he said before the dinner.
"What good's seniority when (Senate Majority Leader) Tom Daschle controls what he says?" Taylor asked.
Other candidates cited their victories as proof Republicans can win in north-central Montana. State Rep. John Witt, R-Carter, asked for support to continue representing Hill, Liberty and Chouteau counties as a Republican. Gary Feland said he is the first Republican member of the Public Service Commission since it was reorganized 30 years ago, and the first Republican chair of the commission in at least as long.
Feland is running for re-election. State Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, is seeking the seat held by Feland.
Speakers called on Republicans to support their governor as well as the candidates. Burns talked about how British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's conservative policies turned Britain to regain its international strength in the 1980s. She reminds him of another lady that's "tough as nails," Gov. Judy Martz, he said.
"She is the Thatcher Montana needs to move ahead," Burns said.
Burns said there has been a lot of Martz bashing by her opponents, but it is unjustified.
"They don't have any answers, just dribble and drool," he said.