Tom Hickman's Conspiracy Theory

September 19, 1994

For the past few days, Carroll County State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman has been advancing the argument that large contributions from defense lawyers were responsible for bouncing him from his post after 20 years. He maintains that they contributed to his primary opponent, Republican turned Democrat turned Republican Jerry F. Barnes, because he won't be "hard-nosed with [criminals], like we are."

If Mr. Hickman made his argument in passing in the heat of a bitter election night, no further discussion would be needed. However, since Mr. Hickman persists in advancing it at every turn and will probably fashion it as the focal point of a possible write-in campaign in November, this argument needs to be put in its place.

Four years ago when Mr. Barnes and Mr. Hickman faced off, Mr. Hickman narrowly won by a margin of about 600 votes out of 31,500 cast in the general election. Any political handicapper worth his salt would have expected another close race. Not only were they running in the Republican primary, which has fewer votes, but Mr. Hickman hasn't had a stellar run these past four years with major cases getting reversed on appeal and controversies dogging his drug task force. As expected, the race was again close, only this time Mr. Barnes won by a mere 172 votes.

Did campaign contributions from defense attorneys make the decisive difference, as Mr. Hickman maintains, or was it some other factor? Mr. Barnes was the clear-cut victor in the campaign contributions race -- collecting $23,354 to Mr. Hickman's $8,985. That alone may explain why Mr. Barnes won. Eliminate the defense bar contributions and Mr. Barnes' campaign treasury is still nearly twice the size of Mr. Hickman's.

Mr. Hickman relied heavily on his staff for his contributions. Attorneys, secretaries and investigators associated with his office provided a fifth of all the incumbent's money. Did Mr. Hickman shake down his staff for donations? That argument would be as ludicrous as Mr. Hickman saying that defense lawyers bought Mr. Barnes.

Instead of trying to advance a specious argument that a conspiracy of local defense attorneys cost him the primary election, Mr. Hickman would be better off to issue a gracious concession statement. His current course of action only reinforces his image as being a poor loser who appears to have little respect for Carroll County's Republican voters.

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