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Casey Christie / The Californian

Dorothy Christian was glad to meet Ken Mettler during his home visit in the Kern City area where he was walking the neighborhood working to get votes in the 32nd Assembly District election in June.

You may not know that Ken Mettler collects stamps. Or that he plays the harmonica. Or that he served in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua.

Mettler, in his political life, has been a lighting rod for controversy and debate over his support of banning books in schools and opposition to same-sex marriage.

But the people who know Mettler as a person and businessman rather than as a politician see his driven, opinionated personality from a different viewpoint.

"He can't help himself. He's going to be Ken," said business partner Jim Scott of Costa Mesa. "If you need him to move a mountain over four feet, he'll move the mountain with a spoon."

Scott, who developed homes with Mettler in Maricopa in the 1980s, said he often talked to Mettler for hours about how they would present their developments to politicians.

Mettler would go out and say what he thought.

"He's an ethical crusader," Scott said. "He'll take a lot of short-term hits to get to what he thinks is right."

His crusades have drawn headlines for years, for things like pushing conservative policies in the Kern High School District and nearly facing criminal charges for kicking and punching San Diego resident Rob Badewitz during a Proposition 8 campaign protest.

His personal story is a bit more quiet.

Mettler was born in Bakersfield. He went to South High School, Bakersfield College, Cal State Los Angeles and then the University of California, Riverside, where he got his master's degree in public administration.

Helen Leino knew Mettler, the son of her childhood friend Marjorie Mettler, from childhood.

"I always thought he was a sweet kid. He was obedient. He and his mother were involved in church," she said. "He always had something to say."

Linda Wix got to know Mettler when he was in high school and dated her younger sister Dixie.

"He was very ambitious. He'd come out on the weekends, we had 10 acres, and helped with yard work -- I think just to be around my sister," Linda said. "He amazed me because he was always doing a lot of things."

After Mettler graduated, Dixie Wix and Mettler went separate ways for a while, Linda said.

But they still saw each other.

Linda Wix moved north from Kern County and took Dixie with her.

"She was up there with me in northern California and she was missing Ken a lot. She wanted to fly down to Bakersfield," Wix said.

Linda Wix told her sister she was crazy, but she still drove Dixie to the airport in San Francisco and put her on a plane.

"I got home from the San Francisco airport -- I'd driven an hour and a half to get her there -- and there was Kenny's car," Wix said. "He turned around and drove back down to Bakersfield."

Mettler married Dixie Wix when he was 24. A year later she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. She fought the disease for years but ultimately lost the fight.

"The saddest days of my life were the day we were informed that she was no longer in remission and the day she passed. I spent many years paying off the accrued medical bills," Mettler wrote in a short biographical statement.

Linda Wix said she was happy to see Mettler meet and marry his current wife, Barbara.

Mettler started his professional life as a real estate broker, then developed plots for oil services companies, then tracts of property to sell to home builders and finally into building the homes himself.

"During the last housing boom I worked out of my home and built custom homes," he said.

These days, with the housing market cold, Mettler calls himself an "under-utilized home builder."

In their business relationship, business partner Jim Scott said, Mettler was the visionary with boundless energy and drive.

"He was the quester and I was more of the engineering tactician," Scott said.