Maine Democrats, discouraged with Congress and reeling from the 2010 governor’s race, are at a crossroads this election.

Taking the wrong road could mean keeping a U.S. Senate seat in the hands of an increasingly dysfunctional Republican Party or “the alternative,” a miscast independent who refuses to be straight with Maine voters.

To remain relevant, Maine Democrats must restore the party’s core values and move away from GOP talking points.

Nominating a conservative Democrat in the primary to challenge a wishy-washy independent in the general election would squander the party’s best opportunity in decades to bring the people’s agenda to the floor of the U.S. Senate.

What are core Democratic values?

They include the dignity of employment, an equal opportunity to succeed, economic and social justice, quality public education, a healthy environment and access to affordable, effective health care.

Democrats value our collective well-being as communities and believe government plays an important role in creating public institutions, building infrastructure and putting reasonable controls on corporations and powerful special interests that risk the public good.

Without a true champion of small business, working families, women and the most vulnerable, the debate will be continuously dominated by calls for tax cuts for the wealthy and austerity measures for everyone else to address deficits created by war, unfair taxation and the public backstop for private gain on Wall Street.

Candidates influenced by the rabid tea party will only fight about who can shrink government programs the most, dismantle the safety net and public institutions the fastest.

To stop this race to the bottom, Democrats must wake up and nominate an experienced and articulate advocate with a bold vision of shared prosperity and social mobility, and a track record of achieving results for all of Maine.

Some say a working mother from southern Maine can’t appeal to voters in the north. But just as you don’t have to be a woman to support women’s rights, you don’t have to be from northern Maine to support families and small businesses across our state.

I sponsored legislation that kept efficient and high-performing schools from mandatory consolidation.

I created the Broadband Strategy Council and sponsored legislation that gave rise to the nationally recognized Three Ring Binder Project, a public-private partnership that’s creating jobs and opportunity across rural Maine right now.

I am the only candidate who opposed the state takeover of the polluted Dolby landfill, and the only candidate to support a feasibility study of the proposed Maine Woods National Park, a gift of 70,000 acres and $40 million that could diversify a one-industry economy and attract guests and dollars internationally.

I have consistently backed workers’ rights to unionize, earn a fair wage and have unpaid family leave.

I fought measures that increased the cost of and access to health care for rural families.

On civil rights, I proudly cast first-in-the-region marriage equality votes, stood tall on women’s rights and won an award from the Disability Rights Center as “Advocate of the Year.”

Before I was in government, I was holding government accountable, having spent 20 years as a civil rights lawyer fighting on behalf of veterans, women and seniors.

Access to Higgins Beach for our disabled neighbors is available because of my work. I worked nationally as the vice chairperson of a prominent business committee, and I worked for Common Cause in Washington on policies that protect the integrity of the Internet.

I have traveled across Maine for years, and have made friends in every corner of the state.

Everywhere I go, people want the same things: jobs, quality education, affordable health care, a clean environment and the prospect of a bright future for their kids.

In choosing our nominee, Democrats must be careful not to out-Republican the Republicans or reward a wealthy, misnamed independent. We need votes — not personalities — to move forward on policies that matter to working families.

In less than five weeks, Democratic primary voters will go to the polls with a solemn question to answer: What do we stand for?

On June 12, Democrats must choose the candidate who articulates the highest and best ideals of the party and who has fought and won important battles at the ballot box, in the courtroom and in the Legislature.

By these important measures, I respectfully ask for your vote.

Cynthia Dill, a candidate for U.S. Senate, is a state senator representing South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and a portion of Scarborough.