Election 2016: Portland, Westbrook Democrats tout experience in Senate District 28 primary

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PORTLAND — There is no dearth of experience in the field of Democrats looking to replace state Sen. Anne Haskell in Senate District 28.

Rep. Mark Dion is completing his third term serving House District 43. City Councilor Jill Duson has served Portland for almost 20 years on the Council and School Committee. Westbrook resident Ann Peoples served in the House for four consecutive terms.

Haskell just completed her second term serving the district covering western Portland and a portion of Westbrook, but decided last winter not to seek re-election. She has endorsed Duson and is her campaign treasurer.

The winner will face Republican Karen Usher of Westbrook, who is unopposed for the GOP nomination, in the Nov. 8 general election.

Mark Dion

Dion, 61, of 45 Allison Ave., said he is a known quantity.

“I am who I am. I think I’ve had a pretty public career. I hope people see I have been consistent,” he said.

Dion has his own legal practice, has been a Portland olice officer, served two terms as Cumberland County sheriff, and is completing his third term in House District 43, which covers northern Portland and a portion of Falmouth.

In his six years in the House, Dion has worked largely on energy and criminal justice policy, and would like to continue, he said. This will include working in both chambers.

“Some people refer to (the Senate) as the upper chamber,” Dion said. “I was not kidding when I said I was just going down the hall.”

In the last session, Dion’s bill to fund diversionary programs to help people with substance abuse disorders passed, and Dion said he would continue working to help fund mental health and addiction services.

“People are worried about this drug issue. Alcoholism is still there and hurting families. I think there is a recognition addiction is a problem that belongs to everyone,” he said.

Dion said he will also focus on student debt and how to keep aging Mainers in their homes.

“When you are carrying $1,000 or more a month in student debt, your capacity to help our economy has been thwarted,”  he said.

Dion said he anticipates the unanticipated, too.

“In six years in the House, I’ve learned the issue you think is going to be front and center hasn’t surfaced yet,” he said.

His work in energy and communications led to legislation that ensured people in rural areas could keep telephone landlines, and Dion said the state needs to be more assertive as part of the ISO New England power grid to protect its interests.

As a senator, Dion said he will take a longer view.

“I don’t want to look at the just the issues, it is too easy to get wrapped up in that,” he said. “I’d like to spend some time looking with colleagues on how we govern.”

He said the Legislature is by design “slow, intentional and incremental,” but he would like to explore bipartisan ideas to make it more efficient.

“Augusta is based on relationships and trust. I have built relationships and demonstrated trust. I hope to continue that in the Senate,” Dion said.

Jill Duson

Duson, 63, of 101 Pennell Ave., said she is running because she has the time and financial security after retiring as compliance manager for the Maine Human Rights Commission. And she has an overriding mantra, she said.

“You are accountable for what happens in front of you. It means finding something that needs doing, and doing (it) with other people,” Duson said. “It is not in my nature to just sit and yell at the television.”

Once the chairwoman of the School Committee and twice mayor of Portland when the position was a one-year post elected by councilors, Duson said she will serve out her term as an at-large city councilor, but not seek a new one.

“I know myself and I know how intensely engaged I get. I would exhaust myself,” Duson said.

She said she is ready to lead the city’s legislative delegation to Augusta.

“I like leading. I think I am good at it, but I am definitely a collaborative leader,” Duson said. “I what to understand where my colleagues are coming from and figure out a direction to get us there.”

Duson said she will advocate for more aid for education from the state, the expansion of MaineCare to provide health insurance coverage, and more housing options for senior citizens.

She also has an interest in environmental sustainability, attributed to her volunteer work with Portland Trails and service on an advisory board with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“I like to go for walks, so I spend a good amount of my volunteer time with organizations working with green spaces,” Duson said.

Her public service has been nonpartisan, because city elections do not include party affiliations, but Duson has also worked for Central Maine Power as a lobbyist.

“I have a very unique perspective and focus on how to go about governing,” she said. “Know the rules better than anyone else and use them to your advantage.”

Duson said she expects her council tenure will be a good link in advocating the city’s interests in Augusta, but knows those interests are not always appreciated by rural legislators.

“Portland is the big dog, but treated like the kid everyone thinks is mom’s favorite,” she said. She proposed establishing “sister-city” relationships with smaller towns to find commons areas of understanding.

“We have a critical mass and safety net services that are unique, but some of the expertise we have gained can be shared with other communities,” Duson said.

Ann Peoples

Peoples said her qualifications are easily summarized.

“I’ve got grit, and I’ve got determination,” she said.

Peoples, 69, of 22 Garfield St., Westbrook, served four consecutive terms in the Maine House through 2014. Term limits laws prevented another run, but she said she is ready to pick up where she left off.

“We have a drastic need for improving our infrastructure, and it has gotten really dire,” she said. “I can hit the ground running; I did it for eight years.”

Peoples would like to reform the state gasoline tax to provide revenue for transportation projects, by splitting it into a 50 percent commodity tax and a 50 percent sales tax.

“Gas tax is supposed to be a user fee,” she said, but increases in fuel efficiency have cut into the tax based on gallons sold.

Peoples has also served on Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Systems committees and said she can advocate for the agency to receive more state and federal transportation funding.

Peoples also served two terms on the Westbrook City Council, and worked at the former S.D. Warren paper mill and as an advertising representative for the American Journal. (The American Journal is part of Current Publishing, which is now owned by Sun Media Group, parent company of The Forecaster.)

Peoples will also focus on the needs of senior citizens.

“We are not doing what we need to do to support aging in place,” she said. “It would be nice if we could have a little bit of help in terms of what happens around the house.”

After her husband, Patrick, suffered a debilitating stroke, Peoples would bring him with her to Augusta.

“It tends to make things more real in people’s minds if they can see it,”  she said.

Peoples said her emphasis will be on ways to develop more walkable communities, improved public transportation and better access and accommodations on streets and in buildings for people with limited mobility.

She said she will also fight to have the state fund public education at the mandated 55 percent level.

“Municipalities are having a hard time making up the gap because they don’t want to raise property taxes,” she said.

Peoples also wants the state to better protect and prepare against electromagnetic pulses, bursts of energy that could occur naturally or because of a weapon, and cripple its energy and electricity grid.

“I have been there,” Peoples said, describing the advantage provided by her experience in the Legislature. “When you go to Augusta for the first time, it takes two years to find the bathroom.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Dion, Dusan and Peoples

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.