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Havre mulls nonpartisan elections


Havre voters may have the option this fall of approving nonpartisan municipal elections.

City Council member Andrew Brekke has proposed doing away with partisan elections and having the mayor and council members elected on a nonpartisan basis, much like school board members and the city judge already are.

If council gives tentative approval to Brekke’s resolution at its meeting tonight, it will go before council for a final vote in two weeks. Then, it will be placed on the November ballot as a referendum.

Brekke, who is also Hill County Republican chair, said he has long supported nonpartisan election, but the issue came to a head in his mind in recent weeks because of two events.

After Republican Councilman Rick Dow stepped down, “everybody on all sides said partisan politics would play no role” in electing his replacement.

Yet, when the vote came, council voted 4-3 along party lines to appoint Democrat Jay Pyette over Republican Debi Rhines.

In trying to compile a slate of GOP candidates for the fall election, he said, many people said they would be interested in serving on council, but didn’t want to be involved in partisan politics.

As a result, in four of the five council races this fall, Democrats will be unopposed.

More good people would be willing to run if party labels were not attached to their candidacies, he said.

Brekke said Mayor Tim Solomon and Councilman Allen “Woody” Woodwick, both Democrats, seemed pleased with the idea.

Contacted over the weekend, Hill County Democratic Chair Brenda Skornogoski said she could see both sides to the issue.

She said she didn’t believe council issues should be decided on a partisan basis, and she didn‘t think that generally they were.

Yet, she said, party labels may give voters a general idea on where candidates stood on issues.

Brekke said the idea of nonpartisan election was discussed about 20 years ago, but then-Democratic Chairman Jim Pasma, who dominated Democratic politics for decades, rejected the idea and party members quickly fell into line.

Most Montana cities hold nonpartisan elections, Brekke said. He believes on two, Malta and Laurel, still elect on a party basis.

Next year, Brekke said, voters will have the option to conduct a study review. Under the Montana constitution, every decade, voters can opt to conduct a study to see if people are interested in making changes in the form of government.

If voters OK the study, he said, a study commission would be elected to come up with proposed changes that would be presented to voters in a referendum.

The commission could proposed minor changes or it could come up with a major revision.

Some Montana cities have a city manager form of government, a city commission or a some combination of those.


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