Hicksville cites deficit, economy as key issues

Defiance Co. village leans Republican

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    A tractor approaches Hicksville on State Rt. 18. This year, the drought hit the corn crop hard on some of the most fertile farmland in Ohio.

    The Blade/Lori King
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  • Hicksville is home to about 3,500 people.
    Hicksville is home to about 3,500 people.

    HICKSVILLE, Ohio — Corinne Hurni once went abroad with a friend from Na­po­leon, who took along a small stuffed car­i­ca­ture of the di­min­u­tive French em­peror.

    But it was the empty-handed Ms. Hurni whose home­town ev­ery­one re­mem­bered.

    “You can go any­place and in a crowd of peo­ple, I’m the one they re­mem­ber be­cause I’m from Hick­s­ville,” the 83-year-old said last week while sit­ting on her porch en­joy­ing a warm fall day.

    The town’s name may con­jure im­ages of a back­ward place, but you’re much more likely to find well-spo­ken and warm peo­ple such as Ms. Hurni in this De­fi­ance County vil­lage of about 3,500 peo­ple.

    The mis­con­cep­tions from such a hard­scrab­ble name don’t bother her a bit.

    “This is a good place, and I’m glad we never changed our name,” she said.

    Ms. Hurni is a great am­bas­sa­dor for the town. Of course, it makes sense. For 50 years, she sold Hick­s­ville, one home at a time, as a real es­tate agent.

    She may have kept the best for her­self.

    Nearly 51 years ago, Ms. Hurni moved into the Vic­to­rian Queen Anne house where she still lives to­day. The home, with in­tri­cate par­quet floors and pocket doors, was built in 1882, the same year as the town’s his­toric Hub­ner Opera House — a build­ing that she helped save from be­ing razed in fa­vor of a park­ing lot.


    Hicksville, Ohio 

    Incorporated: 1875 

    Population: 3,581 

    Average Age: 37 

    Major employers: FWT, Mill Creek Power Tools, Crook Miller Handels, AP Tool, Arc Solutions, Trident Corp. 

    Unemployment rate: 6.7 percent in September (unadjusted) 

    Registered Democrats: 104 

    Registered Republicans: 421 

    Registered Independents: 1,635 

    Median household income: $35,815 

    How it voted: In 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain beat Democrat Barack Obama 708 to 632.

    A life­long Dem­o­crat, she re­calls her father’s ad­mi­ra­tion of Pres­i­dent Frank­lin D. Roosevelt and his life­long re­gret of once vot­ing for Rich­ard Nixon.

    “I’d say the town will prob­a­bly go Re­pub­li­can,” she said, “but I won’t.”

    To her, Pres­i­dent Obama is some­one who cares, some­thing he’s shown through his pol­icy de­ci­sions in his first term. She said she also feels many of those who sup­port Re­pub­li­can chal­lenger Mitt Rom­ney are vot­ing against their own in­ter­ests.

    “I con­sider my­self prob­a­bly lower-mid­dle class,” she said. “When Rom­ney talks about mid­dle class, he’s talk­ing about peo­ple with $150,000 to $250,000 in­come. We don’t have too many of those around here.”

    Dave Mar­tin can’t re­mem­ber much about when he drove to Detroit with his grand­father to see then-Mich­i­gan Gov. George Rom­ney, but he’ll never for­get shak­ing Mr. Rom­ney’s hand.

    “I thought that was the cool­est thing in the world,” Mr. Mar­tin said, while lean­ing back in a bar­ber’s chair in his neat, brick-faced shop on High Street.

    Nearly 50 years later, Mr. Mar­tin is throw­ing his sup­port be­hind George Rom­ney’s young­est son. In a mostly con­ser­va­tive town full of likely Re­pub­li­can vot­ers, Mr. Mar­tin is among those most en­thu­si­as­tic about the GOP ticket.

    “I voted for John McCain, but I kind of held my nose when I did it,” he said. “I’m a lot more ex­cited for Rom­ney.”

    He’s also more op­ti­mis­tic, pre­dict­ing a big vic­tory for Mr. Rom­ney. The de­bates helped show Amer­ica who Mr. Rom­ney is and why he’s the bet­ter choice, Mr. Mar­tin said.

    Barbershop owner Dave Martin, who as a child saw George Romney speak, is supporting Mitt Romney for the presidency.
    Barbershop owner Dave Martin, who as a child saw George Romney speak, is supporting Mitt Romney for the presidency.

    With Mr. Rom­ney’s cam­paign look­ing vul­ner­a­ble, his strong per­for­mance in the first de­bate gave him a much-needed lift, giv­ing the Re­pub­li­can a bounce that the con­ven­tion didn’t.

    “I know there were a lot of peo­ple who weren’t sure, and that neg­a­tive ad­ver­tis­ing, it does make an ef­fect,” Mr. Mar­tin said.

    ‘Jobs name of game’

    Hick­s­ville, with a town cen­ter about 2 miles from the In­di­ana bor­der, is about as far west as you can go in Ohio.

    Like most ru­ral towns, it’s a place where peo­ple look af­ter one an­other. There’s a new school, few empty store­fronts down­town, and lots of mom-and-pop din­ers.

    It was that at­mo­sphere — along with a lo­cal bak­ery and cheap burg­ers — that convinced Mr. Mar­tin to open shop here 18 years ago with­out know­ing a soul in town.

    “I can’t say enough good stuff about it,” he said. “The peo­ple have been great to me, and it’s a nice place to be.”

    Hick­s­ville is sur­rounded by some of the most fer­tile farm­land in Ohio. But this year, the drought robbed farm­ers of much of their corn crop. Driv­ing into town, one can see fields of corn stalks no taller than a fire hy­drant and im­mea­sur­ably more dry.

    Randy Eisel, gen­eral man­ager at Hick­s­ville Grain Co., said a poor crop can take a toll on the town’s psy­che, if not its econ­omy.

    “If there’s a drought or a down year, you feel it around town,” he said. “You feel it at busi­nesses, you feel it at church. It’s not just the farm­ers.”

    In spite of that, Mr. Eisel’s el­e­va­tor is eas­ily the bus­i­est place in Hick­s­ville this time of year, as a con­stant stream of trac­tors and trucks cir­cle through to un­load their grain.

    There’s also some in­dus­try here, in­clud­ing a saw­mill that pro­cesses lo­cal ash logs to be made into in­door flag­poles for all U.S. gov­ern­ment of­fices.

    Obama supporter Corinne Hurni sits on her Hicksville, Ohio, porch on east Smith Street.
    Obama supporter Corinne Hurni sits on her Hicksville, Ohio, porch on east Smith Street.

    Steve Lam­ier, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions at Crook Miller Co., said in an av­er­age month, the plant pro­cesses 2,500 sets of flag­poles, 500 of which will end up in gov­ern­ment of­fices across the United States.

    Once, the flag­poles them­selves were turned out in Hick­s­ville, but now the pro­cessed blanks are sent off to a fac­tory in Stow, Ohio, to be fin­ished. From there, they go to Val­ley Forge Flag in Penn­syl­va­nia, which has the ex­clu­sive gov­ern­ment con­tract for in­door flags.

    The saw­mill em­ploys 16 peo­ple, Mr. Lam­ier said. All the logs come from within a roughly 100-mile ra­dius of Hick­s­ville.

    There’s also a new plant that makes steel util­ity poles. It’s the place peo­ple tell you about when you ask about jobs around here. By the end of the year, FWT LLC is ex­pected to em­ploy 200 peo­ple. Lo­cal of­fi­cials say there even­tu­ally could be as many as 400 jobs there.

    That’s good, but Mayor Larry Haver said Hick­s­ville needs more. For him, that’s what the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is all about.

    “Jobs is the name of the game, and I think Rom­ney knows how to do that,” Mr. Haver said.

    Un­like many small-town may­ors, Mr. Haver holds reg­u­lar morn­ing hours, giv­ing his con­stit­u­ents a chance to drop in and chat. Lately, many of his vis­i­tors are busi­ness­men and en­tre­pre­neurs who are afraid to spend money. A Rom­ney pres­i­dency will fix that, and fix it quickly, he said.

    For Hicksville Mayor Larry Haver, jobs is name of the game for his town, and he says Mitt Romney knows how to create them.
    For Hicksville Mayor Larry Haver, jobs is name of the game for his town, and he says Mitt Romney knows how to create them.

    Lit­tle towns mat­ter?

    Mr. Rom­ney is fight­ing hard to convince other vot­ers of that, es­pe­cially in Ohio.

    The Re­pub­li­can chal­lenger held a cam­paign rally last week in nearby De­fi­ance, where he fo­cused on the ris­ing na­tional debt, as­sert­ing that Pres­i­dent Obama does not have the right plan to speed up the econ­omy.

    Rex Dan­gler won­ders how much ei­ther can­di­date re­ally un­der­stands a place where not only do you know ev­ery­one and their kids, but you also know their dogs.

    “I think they have an idea only be­cause some­one else told them. I don’t think they’ve ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­enced it,” he said. “The big ques­tion is: Are they re­ally con­cerned about these lit­tle towns or are they ca­ter­ing to Wall Street bank­ers, or busi­nesses, or unions?”

    Now re­tired, Mr. Dan­gler spent most of his 40-year ca­reer at the In­ter­na­tional Truck ex­per­i­men­tal shop, where he worked on blast-proof trucks to help pro­tect U.S. sol­diers.

    “I lived in the good times when it was easy to get a job any­where and about any place you went was good enough to sur­vive,” he said. “That’s not true to­day.”

    As for the job of pres­i­dent, he won­ders why ei­ther man would want it. Who would want to sub­ject them­selves to that much crit­i­cism and stress? Who would want to be the face of fix­ing the na­tion’s ail­ments?

    “The prob­lem we have, I don’t think ei­ther one of them can fix. It might be a start in the right di­rec­tion, but we’ve got a long time to change our ways of do­ing busi­ness,” he said.

    He doesn’t think Mr. Obama has been a bad Pres­i­dent, es­pe­cially when he con­sid­ers the wob­bly econ­omy he in­her­ited. Mr. Dan­gler thinks some­thing has to be done about health care here in the United States, call­ing it a trav­esty that a na­tion as wealthy as this has so many un­in­sured peo­ple. But he’s vot­ing for Mr. Rom­ney be­cause of the for­mer Mas­sa­chu­setts gov­er­nor’s pri­vate busi­ness back­ground and hopes he can help cut gov­ern­ment spend­ing.

    Auto repair owner Bob Poth blames President Obama for more regulations that are hurting small-business owners such as himself.
    Auto repair owner Bob Poth blames President Obama for more regulations that are hurting small-business owners such as himself.

    That’s a per­va­sive con­cern around here.

    Though Hick­s­ville vot­ers fa­vored Re­pub­li­can John McCain in the 2008 pres­i­den­tial vote, the mar­gin was close. This year, most peo­ple are sup­port­ing Mr. Rom­ney. Many of them cite the econ­omy and the def­i­cit.

    John Birk­hold farms about 1,400 acres out­side of town, plant­ing mostly corn and soy­beans.

    He can tell you all about work­ing the crop­land here, but he’s not sure what to think of this year’s wild — and wildly ex­pen­sive — pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

    He’s not thrilled with ei­ther can­di­date, though he said he’ll prob­a­bly vote for Mr. Rom­ney. Prob­a­bly.

    What he wants to see are cuts. Big ones.

    “I know one thing, they’re go­ing to have do some­thing with that debt. They talk about bal­anc­ing the bud­get, they need to pay [the def­i­cit] off. They’re giv­ing us old peo­ple a So­cial Se­cu­rity raise. I told [my wife] just take it away from me, 5 or 10 per­cent.”

    Though most vot­ers might not go that far, there is a real sense of worry from many of them about where the na­tion will be in the com­ing years.

    In be­tween tak­ing or­ders, tend­ing the all-you-can-eat baked chicken buf­fet, and warm­ing up cof­fee cups at Yoder’s Res­tau­rant, Kay­cee Rowe sits be­hind the reg­is­ter and bur­ies her­self in an open text­book.

    She’s en­rolled at North­west State Com­mu­nity Col­lege, work­ing to­ward her nurs­ing li­cense. Even­tu­ally, she’d like to move out of town, maybe to some­place big­ger. But for now, she said she likes Hick­s­ville as a de­cent place to live and a safe place to raise her 5-year-old daugh­ter.

    Ms. Rowe, 21, doesn’t yet know for whom she’ll vote, but she con­sid­ers her daugh­ter’s fu­ture heav­ily as she weighs the de­ci­sion.

    “Which­ever one is go­ing to take care of her,” she said. But Ms. Rowe is also con­cerned about her own fu­ture.

    “I’ve heard a lot about So­cial Se­cu­rity, and I’m a lit­tle wor­ried about what it’s go­ing to be like for me when I get older,” she said. “Am I go­ing to have to work un­til I die?”

    A tractor approaches Hicksville on State Rt. 18. This year, the drought hit the corn crop hard on some of the most fertile farmland in Ohio.
    A tractor approaches Hicksville on State Rt. 18. This year, the drought hit the corn crop hard on some of the most fertile farmland in Ohio.

    Coun­try’s di­rec­tion

    Car­men Laskay, a 36-year-old mother of two, is also go­ing back to school, and also won­ders about the di­rec­tion of the coun­try.

    Ms. Laskay grew up in Hick­s­ville, left to teach the­ater at Ur­bana Univer­sity in south­west­ern Ohio, and came back home when her po­si­tion was cut to part-time. She’s now en­rolled at De­fi­ance Col­lege, seek­ing a mas­ter’s de­gree in ed­u­ca­tion and sub­bing when she’s needed.

    She hasn’t com­pletely made up her mind, but she’s none too happy about the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse to the sit­u­a­tion in Libya that ended with four Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing a U.S. am­bas­sa­dor, dead.

    “He’s been ly­ing to us about it for weeks,” she said of the Pres­i­dent. “It’s just very dis­heart­en­ing you can’t trust any­one. I don’t trust pol­i­ti­cians in gen­eral, which is un­for­tu­nate, but when it gets to be that big, we lost Amer­i­can lives. That’s what’s dis­heart­en­ing.”

    Though she may not like what she sees from Mr. Obama, she also doesn’t like the ex­treme par­ti­san­ship she sees from oth­ers.

    “Any pres­i­dent that’s elected is still my pres­i­dent, whether I chose him or not. Or her, hope­fully one day,” she said. “So I try to look at it that way, but I’m not thrilled where the coun­try is. But I wasn’t thrilled four years ago ei­ther when Obama was elected, so I don’t be­long to ei­ther side. I try to look at both an­gles.”

    Bill Zim­mer­man also has no taste for con­tro­versy about Mr. Obama’s right to of­fice.

    “As far as as his birth cer­tif­i­cate, I think they made a big thing out of that,” Mr. Zim­mer­man said. “What makes the dif­fer­ence where you were born, you were born. God put you here. Come on guys, let’s give some­body a break here.”

    Mr. Zim­mer­man, 84, epit­o­mizes “Once a Marine, al­ways a Marine.” He flies the Stars and Stripes above a Marine Corps ban­ner on a flag­pole in his tidy lawn, and he wears a staff ser­geant pin on his cap.

    But the in­ces­sant cam­paign­ing has worn down even this re­tired drill in­struc­tor.

    “I wish they’d hurry up and get it over so our tele­phone could slow down,” Mr. Zim­mer­man said. “I don’t know. I don’t know why they have to do all the mud­sling­ing.”

    He doesn’t dis­play any cam­paign signs for fed­eral of­fice, but he does have a plac­ard for De­fi­ance County Com­mis­sioner can­di­date Brenda Grif­fith, whom he said is a good friend. To him, pol­i­tics isn’t about party, it’s about who can get the job done. Noth­ing else mat­ters.

    He’s no fan of Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, but thinks Mr. Obama or Mr. Rom­ney could both do a de­cent job lead­ing the coun­try for the next four years.

    When he gets around to say­ing who he’s sup­port­ing, it’s more aw-shucks than staunch.

    “I’m not go­ing against ei­ther guy,” he said. “Rom­ney’s been in busi­ness. Of course, you can’t ever tell whether that’s go­ing to help or not. Some busi­ness­men are re­ally great peo­ple, and some aren’t. But that’s the way I’m go­ing to go. I’m just pick­ing out the ones I think will do the best job.”

    For oth­ers, there’s no doubt in their de­ci­sion, and no ques­tion in qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

    “I’ve been through all dif­fer­ent pres­i­dents and for my ex­pe­ri­ence, the Obama years are the worst years I’ve put up with,” Bob Poth said.

    Lean­ing at the counter of his auto re­pair shop, Mr. Poth couldn’t look more at home. You would know he is a me­chanic just by see­ing the dirt un­der his nails and healed scars on his mus­cu­lar hands.

    Farmer John Birkhold says he'll probably vote for Mitt Romney. Mr. Birkhold is concerned about the size of the federal deficit.
    Farmer John Birkhold says he'll probably vote for Mitt Romney. Mr. Birkhold is concerned about the size of the federal deficit.

    He doesn’t usu­ally al­low pol­i­tics in his shop, and he doesn’t much care for the me­dia, but he makes an ex­cep­tion this day.

    “My own per­sonal feel­ing, I prob­a­bly will not be in busi­ness if Obama wins,” he said. “I can­not take an­other four years of him be­cause of all the reg­u­la­tion and rules they’re pass­ing.”

    Mr. Poth’s shop opened in 1931 as a Chev­ro­let deal­er­ship. Later it was a gas sta­tion and re­pair shop. He said he quit sell­ing fuel years ago be­cause of in­creas­ing gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions. Though many of his gripes are over ever-chang­ing state rules, he said the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion has squan­dered money sav­ing big busi­ness while ig­nor­ing the con­cerns of small busi­ness.

    He es­pe­cially doesn’t get the bail­out.

    “[Obama] saved the auto in­dus­try, he bailed them out. But if they’d have filed bank­ruptcy, they’d still be in busi­ness to­day. GM and Chrysler had to file bank­ruptcy any­way, so what did the bail­out do ex­cept put us deeper in debt?”

    In spite of that frus­tra­tion, Mr. Poth still be­lieves he lives in the best coun­try in the world.

    That’s some­thing most folks in Hick­s­ville can agree on.

    “I’m just happy to live in Amer­ica where we’ve pretty well got all our free­doms,” Mr. Zim­mer­man said. “I just say may the best man win. I’m just go­ing to go with Rom­ney this time. I think he’s kind of the un­der­dog. I kind of doubt he’ll get it, but that’s just my opin­ion.”

    Con­tact Tyrel Link­horn at: tlink­horn@the­ or 419-724-6134.