Deep Roots

Deep Roots

Local Businessman Clint Hickman Newest County Supervisor

By Richard de Uriarte (Advantage Magazine – Aug, 2013)

Think back to the most popular kid in high school. He was on the football and basketball team, but not a star. He could have traveled with the “In Crowd,” with the cool kids, but his best friends were the same two guys he met in second and fifth grade. With country music and rock n’ roll on the radio, he drove his own ’79 Trans Am to school – but paid for it by working whenever he wasn’t in class or in a sport. He was doing a man’s job, in a hot, dirty barn, where he had been working since he was nine years old. 

You’re describing Clint Hickman, the newest Maricopa County supervisor, appointed in March to replace Max Wilson who resigned for health reasons. If you look up the term “Regular Joe” in the dictionary, you see Hickman’s picture. He’s the typical guy, only better looking.  And at a time when so many politicians don’t think much beyond the tactical transactions necessary for the next election, Hickman is a guy still open, still learning, viewing elective office as a “public service,” trying to make his community better.  Even on his long commute from his Goodyear home, he’s thinking: “So many people and their cars heading to jobs in central Phoenix, it would be nice to have those jobs out here in the West Valley.”  You get the impression that he’ll get out of elective office before it changes him.

When Wilson resigned in March, Hickman, vice president of sales and marketing for his family’s landmark business, Hickman Family Farms, was hardly the favorite of party activists. In an editorial distributed by a poorly named operation called “Common Sense,” Hickman was labeled  a “moderate,”  “mysterious”, a “crony” of Gov. (and former supervisor) Jan Brewer. “Let’s scramble Hickman’s eggs,” the editorial concluded. 

It’s not the first or last egg joke he’s heard. But after all these years, the poultry references don’t bother him, not nearly as much as the occasional lobbyist or public official shoveling manure. “I can’t stand the pitch,” he says of visitors with an agenda. “I’m in sales. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character. I want to be treated with genuine honesty.” 

Hickman admits he didn’t have much of a “political rap sheet” when he first applied for the position. But he was hardly unprepared. 

His community roots run as deep as the desert water table. Outside of four years at the University of Arizona, Hickman, 48, has lived his entire life in the West Valley. He attended local public schools in the Peoria School District and a couple semesters at Glendale Community College before getting his marketing degree from the U of A. His family once owned a Glendale pig farm where the Tohono O’odham Nation now wants to put a casino. He shot birds with a BB gun in the fields that became the Westgate Entertainment District and Arena. With urban encroachment, Hickman Farms has moved three times in his lifetime to different locations. The business is tied to the growth and the success of the West Valley. 

Hickman sees County government as “business of  customer service.” And he’s certainly no stranger to that. “As I meet everybody at the County, and see what they do, I see County government reaching out (to the citizens) and taking care of issues they might have.” 

Nor is he a political novice. Few among more than two dozen initial aspirants for Wilson’s District 4 seat knew that Clerk of the Board Fran McCarroll had a vote on Wilson’s replacement under the state constitution. 

But Hickman did.

Former Supervisor Max Wilson and Supervisor Clint Hickman

Former Supervisor Max Wilson and Supervisor Clint Hickman

The family egg business had always operated in unincorporated, rural areas of the County. Thus, Maricopa County has been the local government for the Hickmans. When there is a theft at a plant, it is the sheriff’s office that is called. Besides, agriculture, the food industry, is one of the most heavily regulated industries. 

So, the new supervisor isn’t just parroting scripted talking points when he talks about the burdens of regulation or the need for efficient regulatory processes. One of the very first policy initiatives Hickman pushed after his appointment was a freeze on new regulations, adopted by the full board in late May. 

Yet, he is proud that his own business, now in its third generation, operates in publicly responsible manner. And the regulatory safeguards help him market the eggs as a high-quality, safe product. In addition, the Hickmans have a stake in the Valley. His family not only runs a West Valley farm and processing center. They live here too. They were schooled here. This is where their children go to school, play and grow. He wants to see parks and greenbelts. He wants to see more manufacturing jobs in his district. He wants County services to reach his western Maricopa County constituents with the same convenience that central Phoenix and East Valley residents enjoy. 

His governing philosophy, then, suggests a nuanced, pragmatic conservatism, at once protective of property rights, cautious about government intervention, but also cognizant of government’s role in promoting public safety, a stronger economy and good community resources. 

Since his appointment, he’s been on a crash course, mostly on the budget, a learning process he compares to drinking water out of a fire hydrant. He was a yes vote on the FY 2013-14 budget after having spent hours with County Manager Tom Manos, Deputy County Manager and Budget Director Sandi Wilson, Deputy Budget Directors Brian Hushek and Lee Ann Bohn, plus the four other supervisors.  He has taken the obligatory tours of the County’s largest agencies: MCDOT, the 4th Avenue and Durango jails, Flood Control.  Outside of holdover District 4 staffers Scott Isham and Candace Steill, Hickman has worked most closely with Assistant County Manager Joy Rich on zoning and code enforcement cases that led to broader discussions on air quality, food safety, land use and regulatory reform. 

He also took time to visit the Cradles to Crayons program to assist vulnerable infants and toddlers in the foster care system. It is managed by the Juvenile Court. Children’s issues are dear to his family. Hickman’s mother in law, Veronica Bossack, is a former assistant director at the state Department of Economic Security and in 2010 was named a “Champion for Children” by the Children’s Action Alliance. 

Hickman’s family has always had broad community interests. In 2003, he was appointed (by former Gov. Napolitano) to a state Meth Project and is an honorary commander of the 69th Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base. 

So, he’s not just a pretty face with an equally handsome young family. Coming from an industry that occasionally comes under fire from animal rights activists, Hickman has emerged as a national spokesman for food producers, willing to debate emotional and complicated issues and to explain his ideas with the media. Recently, a cordial meet-and-greet session with The Arizona Republic West Valley community reporters and editors morphed into an hour-long interview with more than a half dozen journalists grilling him on a wide swath of topics. 

For Hickman, “transparency” is not just a bumper sticker slogan or a politically correct initiative. The farm operation has been open for tours for local elected leaders (of both parties), the media and even the TV show, “Dirty Jobs.”  So, despite being the “newbie” on the board, Hickman doesn’t feel he’ll crack under the pressure.  (He’s heard that one before too.)  

Supervisor Hickman with top aide Scott Isham.

Supervisor Hickman with top aide Scott Isham.

Advantage Magazine – Aug 2013 PDF

This post was written by
Comments are closed.