After working at a bakery following his graduation from Lewiston High School in 1972, Mark Dion hoped to find an easier job at the Lewiston Brass Works and Foundry.

Things did not quite turn out that way.

His new employer figured that since Dion was used to ovens, he would be perfect working the furnaces.

Dion said that at the end of each day, spent melting metal, “I’d be all black except for my white teeth.”

He stayed in the job long enough to wind up with a couple of Portland Head Light door stops that he helped grind — and still possesses four decades later.

Since then, Dion has worked as a delivery truck driver, a police officer, the sheriff of Cumberland County, a lawyer and a state senator.

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Now Dion is aiming for yet another new job that promises plenty of heat and the chance of getting burned: governor of Maine.

Dion is among a dozen Democrats vying for his party’s backing in a June 12 primary to claim a spot on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, when voters will pick a successor to two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who cannot seek re-election due to term limits.

Dion, 62, faces formidable challengers in the primary, including Attorney General Janet Mills, business leader Adam Cote, former legislator Diane Russell and lobbyist Betsy Sweet.

He said the state has to move beyond the “finger-pointing and belittling” of the LePage years, and begin addressing key issues, such as creating jobs that pay well enough to let people “do more than survive.”

Dion said the opioid crisis will not be solved by “studying it to death,” but, instead, with a broad and flexible commitment to take action.

“We get crippled waiting for the perfect solution,” he said.

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Dion urged universal health care in part to lower the costs businesses have to shoulder. He has also called for an end to the GOP’s attack on government employees, and doing more to promote both quality education and decent housing.

“How about Maine as a place where your kids will be here more than just Thanksgiving?” Dion asked.

Dion said his values were formed growing up in a Franco-American family on Pleasant Street, where his mother stayed home to care for the children while his father logged 28 years as a city firefighter – a position that gave his son a steady exposure to unions and politics.

“I felt this was a really safe city,” he said. “Growing up here, you just felt secure.”

Dion said he likes that Lewiston is so family-oriented, and that its population is not as transient as more-metropolitan areas.

While Lewiston has gone through some hard times, Dion said he is happy to see the city rebounding.

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“I’m really excited that Lewiston is turning the corner,” he said.

Dion said he is glad to see many immigrants trying “to live the American dream,” and injecting vision and hope into the communities where they live.

After working in a series of jobs after high school, Dion went to the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham, earning a degree in criminology. Working for an investigator in the summer, he wound up talking often with Auburn police officers.

He said he wanted to go to work there after college, but there were not openings. In Lewiston, he said, he lost out on the one available slot because the other candidate had more family pull.

But while logging time as a forklift operator, Dion landed a job with the force in Portland, where his focus on community policing won accolades. He wound up retiring after 21 years as deputy chief.

Dion, who has lived in Portland for 38 years with his wife, Cheryl, said he had not thought about becoming sheriff until an outgoing sheriff took him to lunch and told him he should run.

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“So off I went and became sheriff,” he said.

While serving in law enforcement, Dion earned a master’s degree in human service administration from Antioch College in Ohio, studied at Harvard University on a Brooks Fellowship for senior executives in state and local government and earned a law degree at The University of Maine.

After a dozen years as sheriff, he went into private practice as a lawyer and won election as a state senator, “a part-time, seasonal job” where he has co-chaired  the Criminal Justice and the Energy, Utilities and Technology committees.

He said he has a good working relationship with Senate President Mike Thibodeau, a Republican who is also running for governor, and other GOP senators.

“I don’t demonize people,” Dion said, adding it is important “to accept that it’s a nine-inning ballgame,” and that respect and fair-mindedness will advance the cause better than clashing needlessly.

Dion said his careers in law enforcement and politics have taught him there is no good alternative to honesty when issues or problems arise.

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“Ugly or beautiful, you have to deal with it,” Dion said.

That willingness to point out what is happening is one of his strengths, he said, and a quality not found of all in politics.

He also vowed to speak directly with Mainers regularly because, he said, he has “the old-fashioned notion” that it is good to hear fresh ideas from people.

But, Dion said, he will not necessarily move ahead with what people ask because a leader sometimes has to put principles over popularity to do what is best for Maine.

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State Sen. Mark Dion, 62, of Portland is among a dozen Democrats vying for the party’s backing in a June 12 primary to win a spot on the ballot in the Nov. 6 general election. (Photo provided)

Democratic gubernatorial contender Mark Dion with wife, Cheryl; daughter, Brittany; and son-in-law, Kurt Roscillo. (Photo provided)

 

 


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