Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Cote and Dion Visit WaCo Dems

By Nancy Beal

 

Visits from two Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls — Adam Cote and Mark Dion — highlighted the March 11 meeting of the Washington County Democrats in the meeting room of the East Machias fire station.

Cote (pronounced “koe-tee”) is a 44-year-old native and resident of Sanford with a background in renewable energy who is very enthusiastic about Maine’s ability to lead in that field. He is Maine-educated: Sanford High School, Colby College and the University of Maine School of Law. He is a veteran who served three tours: in Bosnia, where he was involved in transporting war criminals to trial at the Hague, in Iraq, where he led 100 convoys, built schools and clinics, established a program called “Adapt an Iraqi Village,” and earned a commendation, and in Afghanistan, where his command leadership earned him a bronze star. Back stateside, he put in 20 years in the Maine branch of the Army National Guard.

Cote is the co-founder and CEO of a company that develops clean heating and cooling solutions to save money and reduce waste, and was recognized by President Obama as a “Champion of Change” on energy and climate issues. He is currently employed at the Portland law firm of Drummond and Woodsum, where he heads up the energy and utilities practice.

Cote has served on numerous state and local boards, including the Sanford School Board and the Midcoast Regional Development Authority. His foray into politics began with the Maine Young Democrats, which he helped to establish. In a bid for a seat in the U.S. Congress representing Maine’s first congressional district, he came in second to Chellie Pingree, but was successful in mill towns and rural areas.

He said he was recruited to run for governor because his fellow Democrats perceived him as someone who could win in both of Maine’s congressional districts in a statewide race. He said some of his reasons for taking up the gubernatorial challenge were his love for Maine, the importance of service, and the future of his children who, he said, he wanted to live in Maine and “have a good life.” 

Cote’s website and campaign material emphasize the need for good jobs in every part of the state. Maine could be a global leader in renewable energy, he said March 11. “We can boom ahead” in that field, he said, if citizens accept new ideas and methods and stop playing the “blame game,” which he called “un-American and against our traditions.”

Overcoming the divisiveness of our politics, he said, “may need someone from the outside like me.” According to his website, that can be done by emphasizing “Maine values of hard work, innovation, a welcoming spirit and a belief that every person is deserving of respect.”

Cote is married to a first-generation Colombian-American who, he said, encouraged him to seek office. They have five children from ages six to 13.

Dion comes from law enforcement background

Mark Dion, a veteran of 40 years of service on the municipal, county and state level, told the Washington County Democrats that he was born into a Franco-American family in Lewiston where he and his four siblings were raised in a two-bedroom apartment. His dad was a firefighter who gave him only $50 to get started in life, believing that he should make his own way. 

After high school, Dion went to Gorham College (now part of the University of Southern Maine), earned a degree in criminology, and joined the Portland police department, where he said he helped immigrants and advocated for gay rights before LBGT issues became a cause. He started an anti-hate crime group in the early 1980s. After serving as a beat cop for 20 years, he was voted into the Cumberland County sheriff’s office and oversaw the 28 towns in that populous county.

As sheriff, he said he advocated for the mentally ill, addicts, and the disenfranchised, and started a literacy program. He said he opposed those who denied the vote to felons who had served their sentences, and added that more employers should be willing to hire them and folks who are in recovery, which he called a “lifetime process.”

Dion, who is now in the Maine State Senate, then spent three terms in the Maine House of Representatives, serving on the criminal justice and energy committees. His take on renewable resources was different from that of Cote. “Folks who use kerosene [for heating and cooking] are not interested in renewable energy,” he said. Wind power, he continued, offered short-term employment on structures that produced energy that went out-of-state, rather than lowering Maine electric bills. He called for the expansion of natural gas because it is cheap and drives down the price of oil. He advocated a “balance between jobs and the landscape.”

Dion answered several questions, many of which involved guns. He characterized a gun as “an instrument people can do bad things with,” but which can co-exist under “responsible legislation.” (He is a gun owner.) As an example of such a potential law, he referred to a universal background check bill that was 18 months in the making, with input from both political parties, the National Rifle Association and the Sports Alliance of Maine (SAM). (It was vetoed by the governor.)

He said that SAM had made sure that, for the most part, gun shows in Maine required background checks, but said problems arose from private sales and those conducted through advertising. He said ownership passing through families should not require a check, but all others should. He advocated using a different license process for assault weapons because of the speed of their projectiles, and supported a ban on AR-15 rifles.

Asked about education, Dion placed importance on pre-kindergarten, and said resource officers should be placed in primary school. “In high school,” he said, “it’s too late.” He called for an expansion of technical education and community colleges. He said Maine’s problem was that education relied on property taxes for financing. “If you don’t want to raise taxes,” he said, “you’ve got to decide what you’re going to cut.”

Dion leads the legislative committee that is trying to hammer out the parameters of the referendum-approved recreational marijuana measure, and observed that the state stood to collect “significant money” from legal sales. He said he had backed Maine’s medical marijuana law in 1999. The opioid problem he labeled “huge” and called for a long-term, community-based public health strategy to combat it. (His wife is a public health nurse.)

The Downeast Correctional Facility was mentioned, and Dion said he had predicted its demise. He said he favored a new building that would house both DCF and the county jail. Of the recently shuttered Machiasport facility he predicted, “The governor will require you to pay for it, or merge [with the county] if you want the state to pay.”

Asked what his vision for Maine was, Dion answered that he wanted Maine to be a place where “our kids don’t just visit for the holidays.” (He has two grown daughters.) If elected, he said, “I would invite the Republican leadership into my office, because I respect the people who elected them.”