The Roundup -

Candidate Forum Held April 12 in Sidney


April 18, 2018 | View PDF

Deputy County Attorney, Tom Halvorson, speaks at the 2018 Candidates' Forum, hosted by the Farm Bureau and Chamber of Commerce.

The Sidney Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau hosted a forum for candidates on Thursday evening, April 12, at the county Extension Office. Twelve candidates for local office were present for the event, running for offices that include County Commissioner, Sheriff, Clerk and Recorder, Justice of the Peace, County Attorney, County Superintendent of Schools, and representatives for House District 35.

The forum for the event was relatively simple, with each candidate being given three minutes to briefly introduce themselves and their positions or the purpose of their candidacy.

Duane Mitchell began the introductions. Mitchell recalled that when he was a child, his father told him that Democrats were for the poor folks and Republicans for the rich, and so Mitchell knew he wanted to be a Republican. The crowd roared with laughter before Mitchell, who is running unopposed, was notified by a forum official that his time had run out.

Next to speak was Kari Sinks, who is running for clerk and recorder against incumbent, Stephanie Verhasselt. Sinks acknowledged that she didn't have as much experience as her opponent but indicated that she was eager to learn the job.

Sinks told the audience, "This is my first time doing this and I'm a little unfamiliar with the process. The position is a lot of responsibility. I know a portion of it. What I lack in experience I make up for in drive, in finding answers to what needs answers, and asking someone who knows."

Stephanie Verhasselt, who has been in the Clerk and Recorder's office since 2003 and has 15 years of experience, gave a thorough explanation of the job of Clerk and Recorder, and she explained how much the office had improved since her tenure there.

Verhasselt siad, "When we first began we were considered a high-risk county and we are no longer a high-risk county."

Luke Savage, current Richland County Justice of the Peace, stated, "I'm one of the most passionate people you've ever met about the law."

After giving a brief biographical sketch, which included his raising in Sidney, attendance at law school and return to Sidney, Savage explained that his experience as a judge began with his appointment as an occasional fill-in for Judge Greg Mohr.

Savage also explained, "I love the law. I love helping people. I think I'm the best candidate for the job. I think I have the knowledge and experience that is required for you to have equal justice in this county and I would appreciate your vote in this election."

Ross Hall began by stating that he was color blind and hoped that he didn't offend anyone by the choice of his clothing, to the crowd's laughter. Hall quickly got to his fiery speech, which heralded Montana's tradition of having lay-people serve in the court system, something that is not allowed but in four states across the country.

Hall said, "It's interesting to talk about qualifications and what it takes. In 1889 this state set down and this state decided it wanted to set up courts of limited jurisdiction. In 1972 they backed it again when they wrote the second constitution. One of the things they were adamant about is that justice should be applied equally. They want [us] to not omit anything that is written or add anything that is written, but to apply the law equally and justly."

Hall continued, "They knew people here in the West, knew what justice was about." Hall went on to claim that he knew a chiropractor would become a judge elsewhere in Montana and would do fine.

"Having a piece of paper doesn't make you an expert on anything," Hall reiterated.

Next, the third Justice of the Peace candidate, Ray Trumpower, spoke. Trumpower, a resident and judge of Fairview since 2005, explained he didn't need to go into his background much because he knew almost everyone in the room. Being brief, Trumpower said that it was commendable there were so many candidates present and running for office and encouraged people to make wise choices.

Next, Tom Halvorson spoke about his candidacy for the position of County Attorney. The two candidates would later field the majority of questions asked by the audience.

Halvorson gave a brief introduction to his background, including his Christian commitment and service as a Sunday School teacher, his experience in agriculture and long-term status as resident of the county. Halvorson then explained his long-term tenure as a deputy county attorney.

He explained, "I have 23 years of experience of private practice in practically every field of law in Richland County. I have been a deputy county attorney for you for the last 18 years and in that time, I have handled major cases and I have handled major business of the county commissioners and I have handled business of major departments in the county government. As to my competence in this position, the readers of the Sidney Herald voted me the best attorney in Eastern Montana. In criminal cases I have been in six homicide prosecutions. I have been the lead prosecutor in three of those cases."

Halvorson went on to explain his pivotal role in getting convictions in the Spell murder case and his experience with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Halvorson iterated that he has always been a Republican, and that he hadn't become a Republican because it's the majority party and easier to win the office.

Christoffersen explained that she was raised north of Sidney in the town of Foid. She also spoke to her experience as a deputy county attorney.

Christofferson added, "I've enjoyed working in the county attorney's office because I've been able to have really great relationships with the sheriff's department and the courts....I think about the crime, I think about the victim, and I think about the defendant. I don't want to see them again. I also worked on major homicides with the Spell and Waters case.

She continued, "I did the search warrants. I bet I did close to fifty search warrants. I did all the background work on that."

Christoffersen also explained that she worked on one of the first "no-body cases" in Montana, in which a murder is tried without having a deceased body for evidence. She added, "I am very dedicated to this community."

Finishing out the forum were the candidates for House District 35, which included Tanya Rost and Joel Krautter, with Rost speaking first.

Rost gave her background, which included being a business owner, mother, and investor in agriculture and experience in oil production. She also explained that her goal was clarity, to explain where she stood on the issues and briefly discussed the issue of compromise.

"Where do I stand on compromise? If you're going to compromise, you have to have a position to compromise. Compromise in and of itself is not a position...but first, I prefer a few other words that start with a 'c,' including conviction and conservatism."

"If you start with compromise," Rost continued, "then there's no room for conviction." She continued to explain her convictions regarding the Sanctity of Life, gun rights, low taxes, family values, and limited government.

"If someone asks why I should own an AR-15 rifle, I would say it's for the necessity of a secure state, which is the point of the Second Amendment," Rost said. "And second, it's my right."

Joel Krautter explained that he was the current chairman of the Richland County Central Committee, co-founder of Sidney Young Professionals, a Montanan, sportsman and local attorney.

"I'm running for representative because we need a problem solver in Helena that is focused on getting results and who will prioritize the needs of our district, whether it is getting money for schools, whether it's infrastructure, ag issues, oil and gas development, trying to keep more money here in Richland County where the wealth is being produced, that's where my priorities are."

"Now how will we do it," Krautter asked. He answered, "I believe that being an effective representative is about building relationships. Relationships matter." Krautter then explained that he hoped to make positive relationships with government officials that would benefit Richland County, warning against those who "think they are going to steam roll" other legislators from around the state.

"I think we see a lot of government shutdowns and failed legislation because of that attitude," Krautter said.

Most of the questions throughout the evening were posed to Janet Christofferson and Tom Halvorson, regarding their race for County Attorney. Questions were regarding possible changes they would make to the office, as well as several questions asked to clarify their various functions under current County Attorney, Mike Weber. Both Christoffersen and Halvorson agreed that there was no senior deputy attorney, and that they were equals in their respective positions. Christoffersen explained that in the last ten years, she had handled more cases, but Halvorson explained that work-load is assigned by the gravity or seriousness of the case, and not the quantity of the cases.

The House District Candidates were asked about their view of private property rights and their opinion regarding the state buying private property. Both candidates, Rost and Krautter, agreed that private property rights are important and neither suggested that the state buying private land would be a good use of resources. Later in the evening, the two were also asked about the possibility of having an annual session in Helena rather than bi-annual, and both agreed that there might be benefits of the notion, but it would have to be further researched. The two were also asked about what some perceive as bad legislation passed at "the twelfth hour" and how much compromise they would be willing to engage in from the beginning to get good legislation passed. Rost explained that often infrastructure bills that promise advantages to Eastern Montana often leave the area with negative consequences and Western Montana with positive consequences, and that she would not compromise on legislation that would hurt Eastern Montana. Krautter explained that in his opinion, people need to understand that everyone from around the state is looking for the best of their district and that there are no perfect bills.

Verhasselt and Sink were asked numerous questions, regarding the interior workings of the Clerk and Recorder Office. They were also asked about why Richland County had been a high-risk county, and Sink deferred to Verhasselt on the question, who explained that it was because they were not reporting on time, which would increase their chance of an audit and punitive consequences.

The three Justice of the Peace candidates were asked questions about opioid addiction and what could be done regarding the high use of drugs. Savage and Hall both agreed that there wasn't an easy solution regarding the issue. Trumpower declined to comment directly on the question, reminding the audience that judges are the judicial branch of government and their job is to enforce the law, but the role of the legislative branch to write the laws.

Gail Staffanson was asked a question about homeschool families in the county, and whether their numbers were increasing. Staffanson explained that during her tenure, the numbers have raised, but not exponentially. She explained that there were not any resources she could give homeschool families on behalf of the county, but that there were growing resources available to them through the private sector.

Speakers were allowed a few minutes to say final words and the program was dismissed. There were approximately 75 people in attendance.


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