October 14, 2012

U.S. Senate race: Democrat Dill stands her ground, then and now

From the schoolyard to the campaign trail, the Democratic nominee for Senate has a reputation for challenging the big guys.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Cynthia Dill speaks during the Maine Democratic Convention in June. Dill won a four-way primary to become her party’s nominee to vie for Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in the U.S. Senate, but has lagged behind her rivals in polls. Political scientist Jim Melcher says Dill “has a reputation for being tenacious, scrappy, willing to say what she is thinking and to let the chips fall where they may, even if they rub her own party the wrong way.”

2012 file photo/Kennebec Journal

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Democrat Cynthia Dill speaks at a candidates’ forum Oct. 4. In six years, she has gone from being a town councilor to her party’s nominee for U.S. Senate.

2012 file photo/Gordon Chibroski

Additional Photos Below

On the campaign trail, Dill has touted herself as a middle-class person sticking up for “the 99 percent” against the peers of wealthy rivals like Angus King. She recently released tax returns back to 2002 that substantiate that she and Clarke have had modest incomes. But they did benefit from the sale of their South Portland properties in 2003-2004 for $297,900 more than they purchased them for.

This windfall allowed the family to move to a home in Cape Elizabeth, so their children could attend its well-performing schools. While their Shore Road address evokes the shorefront mansions of neurosurgeons, corporate lawyers and wealthy heirs, the Clarke-Dill home is located at the road’s terminus in the town village, just inside a commercial zone. Dill’s law firm – and now her campaign headquarters – is located in the walk-in basement. They purchased it for $477,000 in the fall of 2003, and invested in a $185,000 condo unit nearby two years later.

In January 2005, Dill ran for elected office for the first time, taking on a conservative Republican in a special election for a seat on the Cape Elizabeth Town Council. “George Bush got elected for the second time, and I was just beside myself,” she says of her motivation. She lost by six votes, but ran again in the regular November election that year and won.

TAKING ON AUGUSTA

Dill had served just one year when she ran for and won a seat in the state Legislature, defeating another conservative Republican, Jennifer Duddy, by 144 votes. For two years Dill served in both positions simultaneously, allowing her law practice to go largely dorman

Several councilors who served at the same time as Dill declined or did not respond to interview requests for this story. News accounts suggest that the highest-profile issue was a proposal Dill backed to defray the costs of maintaining the popular, town-owned Fort Williams Park by imposing a $5-per-vehicle admission fee for nonresidents. It was ultimately overturned by town voters.

In Augusta, Dill drew attention by taking provocative stands. She refused to follow tradition and vote in support of the Republicans’ choice for House speaker, Bob Nutting, over his having owned a pharmacy that overcharged MaineCare by $1.6 million and still owed the state $1.2 million when it went bankrupt in 2003.

She sponsored measures to allow the recall of the governor and to prohibit nepotism in state government (both in response to actions by Gov. Paul Le-Page). She boastfully blogged of having won re-election in 2010 without having knocked on a single door, instead connecting with voters using a laptop purchased with Clean Election funds.

She also spearheaded the creation of the “three-ring binder,” a recently completed expansion of broadband Internet in rural Maine, and helped obtain millions in federal grants to make it happen. “I was new in the Legislature and was just foundering around trying to figure out what my role was. I wasn’t doing my law and I wasn’t the chair of a committee and I wanted something to do.” A colleague told her: Pick something and become an expert in it. Dill noted that the federal stimulus package had money for expanding broadband, and she researched and promoted the issue wholeheartedly. “In the Legislature, I was like Mrs. Broadband,” she says.

Dill handily won re-election to the House in 2008 and 2010 and, in May 2011, a special election for a vacated state Senate seat. She also unsuccessfully challenged Emily Cain, D-Orono, for House minority leader.

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Cynthia Dill, then a state representative, listens to a debate in the Maine House in 2007. In Augusta, Dill sponsored measures to allow the recall of the governor and to ban nepotism in state government (both in response to actions by Gov. Paul LePage). She also spearheaded the creation of an expansion of broadband Internet in rural Maine.

2007 File Photo/John Ewing

  


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