Mark Dion, a state senator, is one of seven Democrats vying for a chance at the Blaine House this fall.
Dion was a Portland police officer who was first elected Cumberland County Sheriff in 1998 and served in that post until 2016. Dion earned a bachelor’s in criminology from what is now the University of Southern Maine, a master’s degree from Antioch College and a law degree from the University of Maine School of Law.
Dion was elected to the Maine House in 2010, where he served three terms. In 2016, he was elected to the Maine Senate, where he continues to serve.
Maine Public’s Irwin Gratz asked Dion what sets him apart from the field:
Gratz: There are other candidates in this race and many of them are promoting similar ideas. But what specific proposal makes you different than your primary opponents?
Dion: One of the things that distinguishes my candidacy from others is my commitment to creating a community health care system that will allow higher access by citizens, who will provide a competitive choice as opposed to corporate medicine or hospital-based services, and also help reinforce our capacity to provide service to the elders in our community who want to age at home, who have been isolated. And I think, really, that is the most critical policy question for us in the next decade. There’s a lot of time talking about the opiate crisis, but I think the real tsunami that we have to deal with is the fact that we are an aging population, and what’s our response?
Gratz: What’s the biggest challenge that’s facing Maine and what would you do as governor to respond to it?
Dion: The biggest challenge to Maine is — well there are a number of challenges. I wish it could be isolated to one. But, fundamentally, I think we have to do something in the Legislature in order to make it a more effective institution. And I think it’s important for a governor to be a bridge builder, to work in collaboration with the Legislature and to do whatever he can to broker a result that makes sense and answers the needs and interests of the population.
Gratz: Polls continue to show that the jobs are the biggest concern for voters in the state. What would you as governor do to help grow the economy?
Dion: I think one of the key issues around the economy is, for a long time, we’ve sent a message to our youth that success is defined by a baccalaureate degree. I think we might have made a mistake there. I think we need to re-emphasize the value of technical education, vocational education. And I want to see a commitment from Augusta to underwrite that experience so that young people will elect a path to the trades. And those are the jobs that sustain a community. There are enough lawyers in the world but there are not enough pipefitters or electricians or skilled carpenters. And I think that’s the sector of the economy that builds small businesses. And those, in fact, are the strongest strands in the local tapestry of an economy.
Gratz: There’s a working theory that the country is so polarized that it’s best for elected officials to keep their supporters happy and loyal rather than agree to compromise or build coalitions that could alienate them. Do you believe that’s true, and if so, what should be done about it?
I’ve spent eight years in the Legislature and I would hope that my reputation has been as a collaborator, as a problem solver. That’s what we’re intended to do. And you can accomplish that if you don’t demonize the opposition. They were sent by their voters, they’re respected by their voters, they have a valid perspective. Our challenge is to try to find a common language so we can get to agreement. It’s not easy, it’s hard work, but it’s absolutely necessary. And I, for one, believe it should be our primary duty as a legislator. And that’s why I said earlier that I think a governor has to be a moral political leader and strive to create that kind context and environment that would reward collaboration.
This interview has been edited for clarity. For a longer version of this interview, aired as part of a Public Affairs special program, click here. For more on Dion’s stances on the issues, and other Democrats in Maine’s gubernatorial race, click here. Visit our Your Vote 2018 page for more elections resources and information.