Dixon vot­ers give anti­gay coun­cil­man the heave-ho

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAYAREA - By Rachel Swan

A small-town po­lit­i­cal fight seen by some as a lit­mus test of Pres­i­dent Trump’s rhetoric cul­mi­nated in an elec­tion night re­buke in Solano County, where vot­ers ousted a long­time Dixon coun­cil­man who riled the com­mu­nity af­ter mak­ing anti­gay slurs and call­ing for a “straight pride” day.

The bat­tle ended de­ci­sively: City Coun­cil­man Ted Hick­man lost his bid for re-elec­tion with just 27 per­cent of the vote, while his op­po­nent, Jim Ernest, swept up 73 per­cent. Af­ter a tur­bu­lent cam­paign, Dixon res­i­dents are hop­ing the town can go back to talk­ing about lo­cal is­sues. For Hick­man, the de­feat still smarts. “I just got my butt kicked,” he told The Chron­i­cle.

The elec­tion re­sults and pre­ced­ing protests of com­ments Hick­man pub­lished in a lo­cal news­pa­per sig­nal a change in the 20,000-per­son bed­room com­mu­nity wedged be­tween Va­cav­ille and Davis, with its quilt of tawny grass­land, a pump­kin patch boast­ing the

world’s long­est corn maze and a mayor who moon­lights as a car me­chanic.

Dixon came to il­lus­trate a larger po­lit­i­cal di­vide this sum­mer, draw­ing at­ten­tion that some res­i­dents and lead­ers still re­sent.

It all started when Hick­man wrote a news­pa­per col­umn that called for “Straight Pride Amer­i­can Month” and re­ferred to gay peo­ple as “tin­ker bells” and “faries.” The state­ments, pub­lished in a weekly news­pa­per called In­de­pen­dent Voice, in­cited protests at City Coun­cil meet­ings and prompted some busi­nesses to post signs in their win­dows declar­ing that peo­ple of “all races, re­li­gions, coun­tries of ori­gin, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions, gen­ders” were wel­come.

“A lot of peo­ple felt Dixon was be­ing mis­char­ac­ter­ized” by the state­ments of one per­son, said Ernest, a plan­ning com­mis­sioner who owns Ram­town Karate, a mar­tial arts school for chil­dren.

He added that while a small mi­nor­ity of res­i­dents want to grasp at nos­tal­gia for the 1950s, many in Dixon have more pro­gres­sive views.

“I guess we just seem like a lit­tle hay­seed town, but we ac­tu­ally have a lot of ed­u­cated peo­ple with pretty good jobs,” Ernest said. “UC Davis is right across the free­way.”

Hick­man’s at­ti­tude does not re­flect the ma­jor­ity of Dixon, oth­ers told The Chron­i­cle, adding that his re­moval was long over­due.

“We used to say, ‘If the out­side world ever got wind of some of the stuff (Hick­man) was writ­ing, boy, this was go­ing to be em­bar­rass­ing,’ ” said Tom Rup­pel, a re­tiree who con­trib­uted $2,000 to Ernest’s cam­paign. Rup­pel had only spo­ken to the can­di­date for 10 min­utes over the phone when he made the do­na­tion, but that didn’t mat­ter, he said. He was dead-set on fix­ing “the black eye we got” from Hick­man’s words.

Oth­ers called the vote a prin­ci­pled stand against a po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect of­fi­cial who may have been em­bold­ened when Trump took of­fice.

“Ted has al­ways been the kind of per­son to hang on the edge, but he fi­nally crossed a line to where peo­ple in the com­mu­nity said, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” said Coun­cil­man Devon Min­nema, who emerged as a critic of Hick­man af­ter the flare-up.

Mayor Thom Bogue de­fended Hick­man, point­ing to his ac­com­plish­ments — he pressed the city to in­stall stop­lights at deadly in­ter­sec­tions and have po­lice of­fi­cers pa­trol lo­cal schools — and down­played the “crazy state­ments that got so many peo­ple upset.” Even so, the mayor said he is sat­is­fied with the elec­tion out­come and promised to work col­lab­o­ra­tively with Ernest.

Hick­man re­mained un­apolo­getic through­out the sum­mer cam­paign, even as res­i­dents protested out­side Dixon City Hall and waved rain­bow flags. Weeks af­ter the votes were counted, he stood by his con­tro­ver­sial re­marks, in­sist­ing they had lit­tle in­flu­ence over the elec­tion.

“The col­umn didn’t help, but that wasn’t the de­ter­min­ing fac­tor,” Hick­man said, sug­gest­ing that Ernest won be­cause of sup­port from hun­dreds of loyal karate stu­dents, and money flow­ing in from out of town. It seemed that ev­ery lawn and shop win­dow was plas­tered with Ernest’s signs, Hick­man said.

Such char­ac­ter­i­za­tions made Ernest bris­tle. He said his vic­tory showed the town’s de­sire to change out­side per­cep­tions.

“Peo­ple weren’t want­ing to come to Dixon be­cause they thought we were hate­ful and nar­row-minded — and we’re just not,” he said.

Once he takes of­fice in Jan­uary, Ernest said, he hopes to at­tract new busi­nesses to the small out­post just off In­ter­state 80. Dixon has strug­gled to at­tract in­vest­ment dur­ing its long, slow turn­around from be­ing an agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity to one that sends com­muters north­east to Sacra­mento and south­west to the Bay Area. What it needs now are more jobs and devel­op­ment in the down­town cen­ter, Ernest said.

Hick­man, mean­while, has redi­rected en­ergy to­ward his news­pa­per col­umn, which, he said, pro­vides a much big­ger plat­form than a seat on a five-per­son coun­cil.

If any­thing, the elec­tion loss in­spired him to be more un­bri­dled.

“When I was an elected of­fi­cial, I had to be care­ful about what I wrote,” Hick­man said. “Now I don’t have to be care­ful at all.”

Gabrielle Lurie / The Chron­i­cle

Dixon City Coun­cil­man Ted Hick­man lost his bid for re-elec­tion with just 27 per­cent of the vote.

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