November 15, 2012

Elected to the House: Winthrop's Hickman a no-nonsense 'walking improbability'

By Bill Nemitz

I have two words for Republicans who wonder, in the wake of last week's shellacking at the polls, what Maine's resurgent Democrats have that they don't:

Craig Hickman

Contributed photo

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Kennebec County representatives-elect Craig Hickman, of Winthrop, left, Tim Marks, of Pittston, and Gay Grant, of Gardiner, wait to vote Tuesday on leadership of the House during a Democratic caucus.

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

Craig Hickman.

He's black.

He's gay.

He's an organic farmer who's more than happy to give away as much as a quarter of the food that he and his partner, Jop Blom, raise on their 25-acre piece of heaven right in the heart of central Maine.

And, oh yes, one more thing. For the next two years, Hickman, 45, will represent his hometown of Winthrop and neighboring Readfield in the Maine House of Representatives.

"A friend of mine says I am a walking improbability," mused Hickman during a break from Thursday's orientation at the State House for rookie lawmakers. "I like to just think that I have faith in people. I've always had faith in people."

It appears to be mutual. In the race to replace Rep. Patrick Flood, a popular Republican who was prevented by term limits from seeking re-election, Hickman beat Republican Scott Davis, 59 percent to 41 percent.

That, no doubt, is big news around the coffee counters of Winthrop and Readfield. At the same time, far beyond House District 82, Hickman's victory speaks volumes about the strikingly different trajectories of Maine's two major political parties.

On the rise, we see a Democratic Party that finds strength in the diversity of its members, not to mention its candidates.

In total tailspin, we see a Republican Party led by soon-to-be-ex-Chairman Charlie Webster and his visions of "hundreds" of mysterious "black people" stuffing ballot boxes in rural communities where nobody knew their names.

Black strangers sneaking around rural Maine's polling places? Care to comment, Rep.-elect Hickman?

"I tend not to pay attention to nonsense," Hickman replied tactfully. "That's just me."

Let's set Webster aside for the moment -- or maybe forever. Here's what the good citizens of Winthrop and Readfield -- and all of Maine, for that matter -- get in Hickman.

He grew up in Milwaukee, the adopted son of a Tuskegee airman and a mother who took in countless "throwaway girls" with no place else to go for a warm meal or a clean set of clothes.

He earned a bachelor's degree with honors in government from Harvard. He wrote a book, "Fumbling Toward Divinity," about his successful search for his birth parents.

He's a chef, an actor and a rabid tennis fan. His blog, Craig Hickman's Tennis Blog, has been rated among the top 10 independent sports blogs in the country.

Hickman and Blom sold their house in Boston in 2002 and moved to Maine, where they now own and operate the Annabessacook Farm Bed & Breakfast and Organic Farm Stand 10 miles west of Augusta.

And here's the best part: Even as all those black strangers lurk in at least one Maine Republican's nightmares, everybody knows this guy's name.

Hickman is president of the Rotary Club of the Winthrop Area. He has served on the boards of the Annabessacook Lake Improvement Association, the Theater at Monmouth and the Washburn Norlands Living History Center.

When the Winthrop Food Pantry hit hard times a few years ago, Hickman put out the word that there was free food for all who needed it at the farm stand in front of his home.

When the Winthrop Hot Meals Kitchen similarly lost its financial balance, Hickman volunteered to cook hot meals to go out of his kitchen every Wednesday until the soup kitchen could get back on its feet.

Hickman began thinking about running for public office out of annoyance with "regulators coming to my farm and telling me what I could do and could not do." (Turns out he's a Democrat by enrollment but a "libertarian in spirit.")

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