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Democrats retain majority on Havre City Council

 


City Council incumbents got the nod Tuesday from Havre voters. In races without an incumbent, Republican Terry Schend squeaked by Democrat Gary LaValley in Ward 2 in a vote so close that state law allows a recount.

In Ward 1, Democrat Pam Hillery handily defeated Republican Russ Luke. If Tuesday's unofficial count stands, the Democrats will retain their 7-1 majority on the council.

According to unofficial returns:

Incumbent Jack Brandon defeated Republican challenger Debi Rhines 225-127 in Ward 3.

Emily Mayer Lossing won 136-111 against independent challenger Christy Keto in Ward 4.

Incumbent Rick Pierson defeated Republican Jerry Hanson 225-193 in Ward 2.

Hillery won by a vote of 284-157, and Schend defeated LaValley 211-205.

Most races were resolved early Tuesday night but the results in both Ward 2 races weren't available until close to midnight. Party members at the Democrat and Republican gatherings stayed on, waiting for the phone call that would bring the results in the Schend-LaValley race and the rematch of the 2001 nail-biter between Democrat Rick Pierson and Republican Jerry Hanson.

That race in 2001 saw the win swing to Pierson by one vote, then to Hanson after a recount, and finally to Pierson after a vote by the City Council two months later.

After 11 p.m., more than two hours after the other results were released from other wards, the phone finally rang in the Hill County Clerk and Recorder's Office. The unofficial results: Pierson had defeated Hanson, and in the closest race of the night, Schend had squeaked by LaValley 211-205.

"I think we did a lot with Terry getting in," said Hill County Republican Party chair Brad Lotton. "He's going to be a good hand in there."

Lotton said he thinks the two newcomers to the council, Schend and Hillery, will work hard and push the council to work with Mayor Bob Rice, a Republican.

"I think anytime you get a new person into office, they're going to go gangbusters for a while," he said.

The current council has seven Democrats and one Republican, Gary Schubert. Schubert did not run for re-election in Ward 2.

Debi Friede, chair of the Hill County Democratic Central Committee, said she thinks the party did very well.

"I'm very pleased. I think we offered Havre some very qualified candidates," she said.

"I was very impressed with Gary LaValley's voting because he was going against a very well-known person and he wasn't as well-known," she added.

Pierson said today that he's relieved at the outcome.

He said he was on the highway for much of the evening Tuesday after the polls closed.

"I was listening to the radio the whole way thinking, 'Not again, not again,'" Pierson said. Back at home, he finally heard the results on the radio shortly before midnight.

"I thought my opponent was formidable and he ran a really good campaign," he said.

Jerry Hanson said today he doesn't know if he'll run again.

"Naturally I guess I was a little disappointed," he said.

Results must still be canvassed by the Hill County Commission before they will be official, and LaValley or Schend could still ask for a recount in Ward 2 because the vote was so close.

LaValley said he will wait for the canvass, and that he doesn't know if he will ask for a recount.

He said he does not regret running.

"I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry one bit. This has been a great experience," he said. LaValley said he is not ruling out the possibility of running in the future.

Schend could not be reached for comment this morning.

Still celebrating with fellow Democrats at the Eagles Club Tuesday night, Hillery already had plans.

She said she will begin attending City Council meetings from now until she is sworn in in January.

"I figure I was hired as of tonight. It doesn't really matter when I get paid," she said.

She said two things on her agenda are to hold a community meeting with the people in her ward to hear their concerns, and to organize a Labor Day picnic similar to events in towns like Great Falls and Butte.

"The union's really important in this town," she said.

Luke, who was still at the Republican election watch at Pizza Pro after his race results had come in, said if he could do things differently, he would have put more time into campaigning.

"I just didn't have the time or the opportunity to do what I needed to do," Luke said. "But I feel Pam will do a good job."

Luke added that in two more years another seat in the ward will come open.

"I'm thinking about it already," he said.

In Ward 3, Brandon said he is looking forward to another four years on the council.

"I'm a senior citizen and we have quite a population of senior citizens in our community. I try to be aware of them," he said, adding that seniors, many of whom live on a fixed income, have some different issues than other people in town.

Rhines could not be reached for comment this morning.

Emily Mayer Lossing said today that she was out of town last night and called in to get the results.

"I am elated to be serving the people of Ward 4 for another four years, and I am excited to get started with some of the projects I had outlined," she said. Mayer Lossing said she plans to begin studying the feasibility of a tax increment finance district for downtown Havre, contacting towns that have used the urban development strategy before or are using it now.

Keto could not be reached for comment today.

One person seemed nearly as happy as the winning candidates with the election results: Diane Mellem, the Hill County clerk and recorder.

"To say I'm delighted would be an understatement," she said. "I am just more than pleased with this kind of a turnout."

About 38 percent of Havre voters braved freezing temperatures to vote Tuesday.

According to unofficial election results, 1,476 of the city's 3,864 voters came to the polls. That is a lot for an election when the mayor is not on the ballot, and for such a cold election day, she said. In 1999, the last election when the mayor was not on the ballot, 32 percent of the people voted citywide. In 1995, only 8 percent came to the polls.

"Yesterday was a really bad day weatherwise, and people went through the weather to do it," she said.

In the Hingham election, three candidates vied for two spots as city aldermen. Wayland Walls was elected to one position, receiving 42 votes. The two other candidates, Larry Horinek and Robert Spicher, tied for the remaining position with 37 votes each. By law, a recount must be held. The recount is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday.

 

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