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For Bush Critic, Designs on Free Speech Carried a Cost

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 29, 2004; Page C05

Glenn Hiller is a graphics designer who needs a new business card. Something like "Glenn Hiller, Heckler." Or "Glenn Hiller, Job Seeker."

One role led to the other Aug. 17, when Hiller turned up at a West Virginia speech by President Bush and voiced his criticism of the Iraq war and the economy. The next morning, Hiller's boss in Frederick fired him, a move that has riled Frederick's small but feisty Democratic community, put a little local design company on the national news and shed light on how, at Bush's invitation-only rallies, free speech can carry a price.

Glenn Hiller attended a Bush rally in Hedgesville, W.Va., with a ticket provided by a client of his employer, Octavo Designs in Frederick. Not a fan of the president, Hiller heckled Bush -- and the next day, lost his job over it. (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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Last week, a few dozen protesters rallied around Hiller's cause, demanding that he get his job back. The local campaign coordinator for Democratic challenger John F. Kerry has come to his defense. So far, Hiller is still unemployed. "I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing in a democracy," he said. But on the job front, that means "I'm probably untouchable right now."

Hiller, 35, who lives in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., got his $35,000-a-year job at Octavo Designs in Frederick five months ago. The father of two toddlers, he is a registered nurse who went back to school to become a designer. He was excited about a career change. He was no Bush supporter, and in this election season, everybody in the tiny office knew it, including Susan Hough, Octavo's owner, he said.

The saga started when a publicist who sometimes works with the firm gave Hiller a ticket to the Bush rally. Sandy Sponaugle had hired Octavo to design a logo for her client, the public school system in Berkeley County, where the rally was being held.

"They knew my political views, and they knew I intended to ask questions," Hiller said. His boss, Hough, didn't answer several phone calls, an e-mail and a visit to her office requesting comment.

On Aug. 17, Hiller left work early and headed for the Hedgesville High School football field in Hedgesville, near Martinsburg. It was packed, with more than 10,000 people there to see Bush, who has made several stops in West Virginia and plans another today, in Wheeling. The local politicians were there, as were county school officials and the high school band. So were plenty of security people, on the lookout for troublemakers -- and any round blue Kerry/Edwards stickers.

Michael Day, chief of the Potomac Alliance for Kerry/Edwards, was there handing them out. He gave one to Linda Pickering of Harpers Ferry, who stuck it on her T-shirt. At the entrance, Pickering said, two men who looked like security guards came up and asked to see her ticket. Pickering, 21, who is in the Air National Guard, 167th Airlift Wing from Martinsburg, showed them her red ticket, special for the military.

What's with the Kerry sticker, they asked her.

"If it's a problem, I'll take it off," she recalled telling them; then she peeled off the sticker, tore it up and put it in her pocket. She took the Kerry button off her purse, too. But the two men asked Pickering and a fellow Guard member who came with her -- he was a Republican, wearing no stickers -- to leave.

"I was totally shocked," she said, and told them, "I came here to see the president." But she said the men threatened to force them out, so they left.

Bush campaign officials did not respond to a request for information about the incident or about the campaign's policy toward admitting Kerry supporters.

Meanwhile, Hiller -- wearing khaki pants, a button-down shirt but no Kerry decal -- had made it inside. He'd written down his questions, but the chances for a Q&A session weren't good. "He was about 50 yards away, and if I intended for him to hear me, I had to shout," he said.

He had never been part of a protest, and he wondered whether he would have the nerve. But as Bush talked, "it just came out," he said. "I heard the same old empty rhetoric . . . and it just got me frustrated."

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