“You know I’m a huge fan of Mark as a person,” my friend texts me as my girlfriend and I are walking over to visit my sister and her new baby on Tuesday afternoon, “but he lost my vote with his vote on RCV yesterday.”
A few minutes later, as we’re ringing up the takeout we’re bringing my sister for lunch, another text comes in. “WTF was Mark thinking with this vote last night??? I assume he knows that people are going to hit him really hard on selling out his constituents on RCV.”
The Mark my friends are referring to is Mark Dion – the former Sheriff of Cumberland County who’s currently representing outer Portland and much of Westbrook in the Maine Senate. Mark’s one of the seven Maine Democrats currently running for Governor. I’ve been working with him on his campaign since he first threw his hat in the ring back in October.
Mark grew up poor in Lewiston and rose up through the ranks of the Portland Police Department, earning national attention again and again over the course of his twenty years on the force for the innovative community policing programs he developed. As Sheriff, he built the Cumberland County Jail into the largest mental health and substance use center in the state. Mark’s a solid progressive who came out hard for Bernie Sanders and has been advocating strongly for Ranked Choice Voting from the beginning.
Mark’s an underdog – it’s totally possible that he won’t end up being the Maine Democrats’ most popular first choice, but if enough people pick him as their second or third choice, Ranked Choice Voting could still give him a shot at the Blaine House. His whole career might hinge on RCV. He’s been a plaintiff in both of the recent legal cases to defend it in the courts. Why would he vote against it? It didn’t make sense.
So, I called him.
The answer, predictably, is somewhat complicated, but here’s my understanding of what happened. I’ll do the best I can to keep it simple.
On Tuesday afternoon, Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R – Waldo) proposed an “order” that would have authorized him to use his capacity as the leader of the Senate to try to wrestle Maine’s new RCV policy into a series of legal skirmishes, maybe even to the point of extinction. Like it or not, the Republicans hold a majority in the Senate – whatever the Democrats did on Tuesday, Thibodeau’s order was going to pass.
So, Mark had a few options. He could have just taken to a soap box, blasting Thibodeau’s proposal, and the Republicans in general, for going against the popular will of the people of Maine. It wouldn’t have changed anything, but it might have looked good: a righteous defender of justice, going down with the ship.
But Mark doesn’t roll that way. Mark told me that he remembers thinking, “If we don’t do something, they win. And winning in this case is awful.”
So, instead of choosing to grandstand, Mark, along with Sen Dawn Hill (D – York), chose to try to reason with Thibodeau.
Thibodeau’s original language was unprecedented. It was broad enough to allow the Senate to mount a legal challenge against any public or private persons involved in the RCV process, and would have granted him the freedom to drag out his effort indefinitely, slugging it out all the way to primary day, June 12, if need be.
Thibodeau could certainly have passed this original language, but ultimately, he was willing to accept much narrower language if it meant getting more votes. That’s where Mark and Dawn came in. By the time the negotiation was over, Thibodeau’s language was no longer open-ended. He’d agreed to limit his efforts to the case he has currently filed, and, more importantly, he’d agreed that if he doesn’t get what he wants soon, he’ll call it quits by April 17 and give up trying to prevent RCV through the courts.
It took some old-fashioned negotiation and haggling, but when I asked Mark what he thinks is likely to happen now, he seemed hopeful. The situation could easily have become even messier and gone until the last possible minute. Now it may well end up being relatively straight-forward.
On Wednesday, following the ruling in Maine Superior Court in favor of RCV, Thibodeau submitted his case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Because of the amendments that Mark and Dawn got put into the order, if Thibodeau loses here, this whole epic court battle will be over. It won’t drag on indefinitely and get redrawn five different ways. Maine will move on, and knock on wood, we’ll have RCV in June.
That’s what Mark voted on. I think he made the right call.
As my girlfriend and I took turns playing with my new nephew on Tuesday afternoon, I did the best I could to text this explanation to my friends who’d reached out to me in such alarm. “I get what you’re saying; I do,” replied one, but “People aren’t going to understand – or frankly care – about Mark having taken a nuanced or principled stance on this issue. Nobody’s going to dig into the details. The narrative today is: Mark Dion voted WITH THE REPUBLICANS – to destroy RCV.”
I hope my essay here will help clear that up. I refuse to believe that Maine voters are stupid. I have faith that we’re smart enough to know the difference between the elected leaders who genuinely do the work of good governance and the shallow politicians who just talk a good game.
Making speeches is easy; making genuine change is hard. Cops don’t pick which 911 calls come in over the radio, and for the most part, legislators don’t get to pick their fights either. But we all get to pick the extent to which we’re willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work at hand. That’s a lot of what real leaders do. They face challenges head on. They engage. They make things better. And that’s what Maine needs in the Blaine House.
If you’d like to support Mark’s campaign for Governor, any amount would go a long way: