Editor's note: This is the first of a short series of articles to acquaint area voters with candidates whose names will appear on the June 6 primary election ballot at various voting sites within Hill County.
Voters have little incentive to leave the comfort of their homes Tuesday other than the races for national office appearing on the June 6 primary election ballot. Though some of the county and state races for area representation will be contested in the fall, none of the party candidates Tuesday is opposed.
The lesser positions and uncontested races are still worth noting, because the winners will hold offices affecting area residents for the next few years.
The candidates were asked to provide a brief personal history and their reasons for running for office.
Running unopposed for the nonpartisan position of Hill County Justice of the Peace is incumbent Terry Stoppa. Stoppa has been a Hill County resident for 33 years. He has been married to his wife, Kay, for 39 years and has three grown children, all
graduates of Havre High School. Stoppa served four years in the U.S. Air Force.
His qualifications for the position, he said, include two years of college and 36 years of experience in the criminal and civil justice system. He served 32 years in law
enforcement and the past four years as justice of the peace.
“I really enjoy all aspects of the office work and working with the public,” Stoppa said. “If re-elected to the office, my priorities would be to continue fair and impartial justice for everyone and help in any way I can to combat the domestic violence and drug problems facing Hill County.”
Hill County Attorney Cyndee L. Peterson is running unopposed for re-election.
Peterson, a Democrat, was born and raised in Circle and earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of Montana and then earned her juris doctor at the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. She was admitted to the State Bar of Montana in 1997.
She was deputy Liberty County attorney in Chester, then went to work for Judge John Warner in 12th Judicial District Court in Havre. In January 2001, she was appointed deputy Hill County attorney, and was appointed Hill County Attorney by the commissioners in 2003, when David Rice became 12th Judicial District Court judge. In 2004, she was elected county attorney to fulfill the remainder of Rice's four-year term.
Peterson is married to local attorney Robert M. Peterson and has two grown stepdaughters. She serves on the Montana County Attorneys Association board of directors, is past president of the 12th Judicial District Bar Association and is a member of the National College of District Attorneys. She is a member of Optimists and volunteers with several local task forces, committees and coalitions.
“I am passionate about my work and I can't imagine doing anything else,” she said in answer to why she is running. “It truly is that simple. My job gives me the opportunity to have a positive impact in Hill County. It also gives me the opportunity to make Hill County a safer and healthier community.”
She said addressing the issue of increased crime in Hill County is her top concern. Equally important, she said, is the protection of our children and elderly citizens from abuse or neglect.
“My No. 1 priority is effective and fair criminal prosecutions,” Peterson said. “However, although I spend the majority of my time prosecuting, I must balance that work
with my civil duties to ensure the county's day-to-day affairs are handled lawfully.”
Hill County Sheriff/Coroner Greg Szudera also is running unopposed.
Szudera, 60, is a graduate of Billings Central High
School, Helena Vo-Tech, Highway Patrol Basic in Bozeman, Police State and Command at Northwestern University Traffic Institute. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1968 and served 28 years with the Montana Highway Patrol. He has been Hill County sheriff since 2002.
Szudera and his wife, Sheila, have five grown children.
“I am seeking the office of sheriff/coroner because I have many years of experience that I will utilize to provide professional law enforcement services for Hill County,” Szudera said. “I will continue to protect and serve all people with dignity and respect.”
Szudera said safety for his deputies and detention staff are a primary issue for him. Updated training, adequate equipment and staffing all need to be addressed, he added.
“The drug problem in our community is a high priority for the Hill County Sheriff's Office,” Szudera said. “The ‘meth' problem in our community is a grave concern. Most of the crimes in our community are alcohol- and drug-related. I will continue to educate the public on the dangers of using drugs and alcohol.”
He is running as a Democrat.
Supreme Court Justice John Warner, 63, has a lengthy list of credentials, including serving as 12th Judicial District Court judge in Havre from 1988 to 2003. He was appointed to the Montana Supreme Court in 2003 and was elected in 2004.
He and his wife, Kay, have six grown children.
Warner served on the Montana Judicial Standards Commission from 1993 to 2003 and was chairman of the commission from 1998 to 2002. Among his many other accomplishments, he was president of the Hill County Bar Association in 1974.
Warner has served on the board of directors of Montana Legal Services Inc., Montana AAU and
Hilltop Recovery Inc. He served as president of Montana Swimming Inc., was an MOA football and basketball referee for 26 years. He
was also a member of the Montana Health Care Inc., Havre Lions Club and the St. Jude Thaddeus Parish parish council.
“Kay and I are settling into Helena after leaving Havre in 2003,” Warner said. “I find that I enjoy my job on the Montana Supreme Court. I will continue to do my best. We do miss our old friends on the Hi-Line, and enjoy getting back to Havre when we can.”
Warner said political independence is key to being a supreme court justice.
“ It is important for a justice on the Supreme Court to be independent, and protect our constitutional rights,” Warner said. “It is also important that judges, especially appellate judges, remember that their job is to interpret the law, not to legislate from the bench. My priorities are to remain faithful to these basic precepts. A justice on the Supreme Court does not have an agenda. It is his or her job to take each case as it comes, apply the law, and render a just and fair decision.”