Maine state Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, seen here on Aug. 18, casts Maine’s votes at the virtual Democratic National Convention. Image from video

WINTHROP — Craig Hickman was planning Wednesday to harvest okra on his farm in Winthrop, but that plan kept getting interrupted.

Hickman’s everyday life — as an organic farmer and owner of a bed-and-breakfast, and as a Democratic state representative for Winthrop, Readfield and part of Monmouth — has been overshadowed by his 30-second appearance Tuesday night at the virtual Democratic National Convention, announcing Maine’s delegate votes for Joe Biden, now his party’s nominee.

“I’m still giggling,” Hickman said in an interview Wednesday.

Hickman’s 30-second spot was one of 57 featured in the Roll Call Across America portion of Tuesday’s virtual convention.

“My American dream? I’m living it. A 25-acre organic farm on a lake, a roadside farm stand, a bed and breakfast,” Hickman said during the spot, recorded while he stood at his Winthrop farm. “My husband and I aren’t corporate tycoons. We just want to make an honest living and feed our community. Small businesses like ours are the backbone of rural economies across America.

“Joe Biden has a plan to help more Americans, especially people of color, start their own businesses,” Hickman continued. “Maine casts nine votes for Bernie Sanders and 22 votes for our next president, Joe Biden.”

Normally, the roll call is held in a large convention center, where thousands have gathered to take part in the theater of the nominating process. But this year, in deference to the global coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic Party planned a virtual event, paving the way for showcasing all 50 states and seven U.S. territories.

“It’s humbling to be part of this point in history,” Hickman said Wednesday. “What we did was historic — not what we did, Craig and Jop (Blom, Hickman’s husband) — but what this convention had to do was historic. This roll call, I don’t know whose idea it was, but what a great idea.”

State Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, sings the National Anthem to open the House session on Sept. 13, 2018, at the Maine State House in Augusta. Hickman included the 23rd Psalm as part of his opening prayer. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

The spot was recorded Sunday, with three different takes. Hickman said several locations were considered, but the final choice was guided by the distance to an electric outlet and the reach of an extension cord.

Not long after his appearance, about an hour and 13 minutes into the broadcast, the reactions started to roll in.

Early on, a tweet from Meena Harris, niece of Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris, set off a cascade of reaction on Twitter.

“I just started laughing at what some of the people were saying,” Hickman said. “One person said, ‘I think that we’ve discovered that Maine has more than one Black person in it.’ And someone else said, ‘I didn’t know Maine had any Black people in it,’ and, ‘They have a Black man? And he has a husband?'”

Online news organization BuzzFeed News also featured Hickman’s appearance among 10 it highlighted as “beautiful, powerful and funny moments” from the roll call.

While Hickman, who is also an actor, has been on the national stage before, going viral on the national media stage is something quite different, he said. He uses Facebook for education and has a Twitter account that he used to write about tennis that’s been dormant for several years.

Craig Hickman, left, speaks with his neighbor, John Branning, who volunteered to fertilize vegetables at the Winthrop farm on July 15, 2018. Hickman was welcoming the assistance of volunteers while he recovered from serious burns he sustained the previous week. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

Two years ago, Hickman was seriously burned in a brush fire accident, prompting neighbors and volunteers to flock to his aid and help out at the farm.

Since Tuesday night, Hickman said he and Blom have been fielding a lot of phone calls, emails and requests for information about their bed-and-breakfast and how to book a stay. Because of the pandemic, he said, they aren’t accepting reservations right now.

Hickman is no novice at presidential politics and nominating conventions, and the roll call is his favorite part.

“It’s the official act,” he said. “It’s why we’re there. We’re there to cast votes and nominate the president and vice president of our ticket. I’ve always enjoyed when, at these conventions, whoever represents the state gives their spiel about how great their state is on the floor of the convention and they announce the vote with a lot of theatrical declamation. I just love it.”

In 2008, Hickman was a delegate for then-Sen. Barack Obama, and he was able to cast a vote for the first Black nominee of a major party ticket. As the president of the Maine Electoral College in 2012, Hickman signed the ballots both for Obama as president and Biden as vice president. He considers his appearance Tuesday as the capstone of his involvement in politics.

In person on the floor of the convention hall, he said, the roll call is electrifying.

Tuesday’s virtual version was entirely different, with no crowds and no loud cheers. Instead, each segment highlighted each state or territory as the votes were cast, and Hickman loved it.

“You see America better that way than you do when everybody is at the convention and calling in the vote with the camera in their face,” he said.

The virtual roll call is among the convention segments earning high marks.

Mark Brewer, a University of Maine professor of political science, said the roll call ranks highly among the other high points Tuesday, including the speech by former First Lady Michelle Obama and the children singing the national anthem.

“I think (the roll call) was effective in kind of showing the diversity of the party and the diversity of the nation,” he said. “And having Rep. Hickman be the person who formally announced Maine’s vote is particularly resonant at the time we find ourselves in the United States.”

Hickman has pushed policies to address racial inequality and systemic racism in Maine, Brewer said. “It’s a longtime issue,” he said, “but it’s really come to the forefront in the wake of the George Floyd murder.”

Whether the national Democratic Party sticks with this format in the future is hard to say.

“In order to tell the full story of this, we’ll have to see how the Republicans handle their business when their time comes,” Brewer said, referring to next week’s scheduled Republican Party convention. “They hung on to the idea of in-person activities a lot longer than the Democrats did, which may mean less time planning for what they are actually going to do.”

Craig Hickman sprinkles seasoning on chicken before he smokes it on Aug. 14, 2014, at his home in Winthrop. He and other volunteers were preparing for a charity fundraiser. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

As the convention continues, including speeches by former president Barack Obama, Harris and Biden, Hickman still has some okra to pick.

“We’re going to keep putting our feet in front of the other,” he said, “and harvesting our food and feed our community, because that’s what we do.”

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