Donna Dion, who served as Biddeford’s mayor from 1997 to 2003 as well as chair of the School Committee, is among seven Democrats running for governor.
Dion also worked for 12 years at Time Warner and as the finance director of two nonprofits, Creative Work Systems and Port Resources. Dion earned a bachelor’s from the University of Maine at Machias.
As Dion told Maine Public’s Nora Flaherty, her first focus will be on making government work:
Flaherty: There are several other candidates in this race for the Democratic nomination and many of them are promoting similar ideas. What specific proposals make you different from your primary opponents?
Dion: Well, I indicated right off the bat, before I even met the other candidates, that my platform was respect. We need to bring respect back into Augusta because we needed to start resolving some of the concerns and issues that we were trying to move forward. And my background is in negotiations. I have 45 years in the financial arena, of which 12 of those were with Time Warner, which I was the first manager in Portland. So, as a result, I was required to do a lot of public relations, which turned into negotiations and franchises. And it also turned into me going out and doing checks and balances at other organizations and bringing very volatile individuals who didn’t want a stranger in their organization. So I found that I have been very successful in my 45 years in bringing people to the table. And so I saw an opportunity of not just looking at policies, but utilizing that 45 years, and especially my six years as mayor of the city of Biddeford, where I not only did policies but did the overall operations of both the city side and the school side, which is an unusual situation. So I looked at my unique diverse skill level and said this is different than just looking at specific issues that people have been handling, and looking at a larger picture — the entire operations of the position of governor.
Flaherty: From your perspective, what’s the biggest challenge that’s facing Maine and as governor what would you do to respond to it?
Dion: I think we need to bring in more revenue. And that’s a big situation, but it encompasses various strategic plans. First of all there is the possibility of bringing new revenue into the state by just looking at locations or individuals that don’t pay any revenue in the state of Maine, for example. I’m working on a project of looking at all of the residential homes that are owned by non-Maine residents, who do pay taxes and assist the communities, but they freely use our infrastructure without putting a penny into the income tax levels. So I’m looking at some programs that are being utilized in other states where they receive those extra funds for people who do not reside in the state, who own property in the state, so that we start bringing revenue and taking the burden off of our own people, Mainers. But, at the same time, looking at the educational, in collaborating K-12, but also looking at the vocational end of it in the universities, how we can then match them and have internships and increase the positions that already exist in the state, and not necessarily have to learn new businesses, but increase the revenue. I’m a money person. I’m looking at how do we structure what we have? Is it being used effectively? Can we improve it? And how do we change it? And at the same time, how do we successfully implement some of the programs that have been clearly noted about affordable health care, economic development, training, you know, workforce adjustments? My past has allowed me to tinker in all of those arenas, working with the Workforce Investment Act from the federal government for, like, seven years, looking at interfacing businesses and the workforce and making sure they have the right skills. So I would look at it as being a revenue situation which encompasses a lot of other avenues.
Flaherty: Polls fairly consistently show that jobs are the biggest concern for voters in Maine. As governor what would you do to help grow the economy?
Dion: I first would like to look at the businesses that already exist here. They already have rooted in the state of Maine. They have some loyalty. They have an investment. And so, how do we take our workforce and provide them — even the new workforce — provide them with proper training? That enables them as a carrot to tell the businesses: You don’t have to invest money to train them, we’re going to do the training on the basis that they need, in order to assist you in growing your business right here in Maine. And, at the same time, working with our students in the colleges for internships, and making them have the ability to on-the-job training, and not costing the businesses anything, but at the same time providing them with first-quality staff.
Flaherty: Maine voters will be using ranked-choice voting in this primary election. Assuming that you would rank yourself No. 1, who would be your second or third choice and why?
Dion: Well, getting to know the Democrats — and I have also listened to the Republican debates — but looking at the Democrats because they obviously more aligned themselves with the issues that I’m concerned with. Although they say it’s time for a woman to be in office, I feel that all of them have a strong second. But I may go with - it’s kind of hard. You know, Betsy Sweet, Mark Eves - I think all of them at any time could possibly be that second choice. I just know that my experiences - it’s not that all are bad candidates - we are all good candidates, but we all specialize in certain areas and I’m just more diverse. So it’s kind of hard to distinguish who would be second because they’re all excellent in their area that they are experts in.
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.