By Patty B. Wight
Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill got her first taste of politics serving on the Cape Elizabeth Town Council in 2004. She moved on to the Maine House of Representatives, and last year was elected to the Maine Senate. Now, Dill wants a Senate seat in Washington. She says she will use her strength, integrity, and fair-mindedness to move beyond partisanship and get work done.
The two jobs that Cynthia Dill holds are of the more thankless variety: politician and lawyer. She's practiced civil rights law for 20 years, and is most proud of cases she's fought for gender equality and access for the disabled. Her interest in politics, she says, is a natural one: It expands her representation beyond single clients to large groups of people.
"I certainly knew that in my lifetime that I wanted to continue in a career that really made a difference in terms of social and economic justice," she says. And I did that in my work as a lawyer, and wanted to do something different."
Still, while serving on the Cape Elizabeth Town Council, Dill didn't think she would head to the Maine Legislature. But then-Speaker of the House Glenn Cummings recruited her, and pretty soon, she was hooked. And now, Dill says, as a U.S. senator, she will fight to ensure that all people have the opportunity to succeed.
"I have a lot of respect for Olympia Snowe, and I've said publicly that I think she's done an excellent job in many respects," Dill says. "However, in her final years of serving the state of Maine, I just would have made different choices.""
For starters, Dill says, she supports the Affordable Care Act. "I think it's good for business and I think it's good just for society."
Dill says health care still needs reform. But she says providing insurance through employers makes it harder to change jobs. Another choice Dill would have made differently? Tax reform.
"Clearly there's what I call a 'swiss cheese' of a tax base: Special interests have been able to lobby tax exemptions and loopholes and so they don't pay their fair share and therefore we don't have the tax base that we need to fund essential programs and services," she says.
Those programs and services, says Dill, are important government investments. "I think that we've gotten away from this idea that we're a community, and that government can play a positive role in building schools and infrastructure and creating spaces where communities can come together," she says. "Everybody in society is longing for community."
Overall, Dill describes herself as a progressive who stands up for working families. University of Maine political science professor Amy Fried says Cynthia Dill is a strong communicator and her views tend to fall in line with mainstream Democrats.
But she says a primary challenge--one that all candidates from the 1st District face--is location, location, location. "Typically it's easier for candidates who are in the north to appeal further south than it is the other way around, so that may be a bit of a problem," Fried says.
"While I live in the outskirts of Portland, I've been a legislator with a track record of really trying to move Maine as a state forward," Dill says.
Dill points to legislation she sponsored that helped secure funding to expand broadband Internet access in rural Maine - 1,100 miles of it. She also supports a study to determine whether there should be a national park in northern Maine. While the idea is controversial, Dill says it could create much-needed jobs in that part of the state.
Dill has also been criticized by some as a partisan liberal. "I've never seen it," says David Backer, a lawyer who served with Dill on the Cape Elizabeth Town Council. He says Dill stood out as someone who never tried to curry favor with friends when deciding an issue. She's someone, he says, "who will sort of let the chips fall where they may in making a decision that she truly believes is a good one. And that's a rare thing for a candidate."
Dill says she's not afraid to speak out for what she believes in. At 47 years old, she says she's feeling a particular sense of urgency.
"It just seems like it's the right time for me," she says. "I've had private sector experience, I've created jobs. I'm a mother--I think it's time we had more mothers in Congress at the table making decisons that are going to affect future generations. I think it's time we had a new generation of leadership in Washington."
Dill faces three Democratric challengers in the primary: John Hinck, Matthew Dunlap, and Benjamin Pollard.