After working at a bakery following his graduation from Lewiston High School in 1972, Mark Dion hoped to find an easier job at the Lewiston Brass Works and Foundry.

It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Instead of snagging one of the plum positions he hoped for, his new employer figured that since Dion was used to ovens, he’d be perfect for working the furnaces.

By the end of each day melting metal, Dion said, “I’d be all black except for my white teeth.”

He stayed in the job long enough to wind up with a couple of Portland Head Light door stops that he helped grind and still possesses four decades later.

Since then he’s worked as a delivery truck driver, a police officer, the sheriff of Cumberland County, a lawyer and a state senator.

Now Dion is aiming for yet another new job that promises plenty of heat and the chance of getting burned: governor.

Dion is among a dozen Democrats vying for his party’s backing in a June 12 primary to claim a spot on the Nov. 6 general election ballot when voters will pick a successor to two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who can’t run for re-election because of term limits.

Dion, 62, faces some formidable challengers in the primary, including Attorney General Janet Mills, business leader Adam Cote, former legislator Diane Russell and lobbyist Betsy Sweet.

He said the state has to get past the “finger pointing and belittling” of the LePage years and begin to address key issues such as creating jobs that pay well enough to let people “do more than survive.”

Dion said the opioid crisis won’t be solved by “studying it to death,” but with a broad and flexible commitment to take action. “We get crippled waiting for the perfect solution, he said.

Dion urged universal health care in part to lower the costs businesses have to shoulder. He also called for an end to the GOP’s attack on government employees and doing more to promote both quality education and decent housing.

“How ’bout Maine as a place where your kids will be here more than just Thanksgiving?” Dion asked.

Dion said his values were formed growing up in a Franco-American family on Pleasant Street, where his mother stayed home to care for children while his father logged 28 years as a city firefighter — a position that gave his son steady exposure to the ins and outs of unions and politics.

“I felt this was a really safe city. Growing up here, you just felt secure,” he said. He said he likes that it’s so family-oriented and that it’s not as transient as more metropolitan places.

Though it’s gone through some hard times, Dion said, he’s happy to see the city rebounding.

“I’m really excited that Lewiston is turning the corner,” he said.

Dion said he’s glad to see many immigrants trying “to live the American dream,” and injecting vision and hope into the communities where they live.

After working in a series of jobs after high school, Dion went to the University of Maine Portland-Gorham, earning a degree in criminology. Working for an investigator in the summer, he wound up talking a lot with Auburn police officers.

He said he wanted to go to work there after college, but there weren’t any openings. In Lewiston, he said, he lost out on the one available slot because the other candidate had more family pull.

But while logging time as a forklift operator, Dion landed a job with the force in Portland, where his focus on community policing won accolades. He wound up retiring after 21 years as deputy chief.

Dion, who has lived in Portland for 38 years with his wife, Cheryl, said he hadn’t really thought about becoming sheriff until an outgoing sheriff took him to lunch and told him he should run. “So off I went and became sheriff,” he said.

While serving in law enforcement, Dion earned a master’s degree in human service administration from Antioch College, studied at Harvard on a Brooks Fellowship for senior executives in state and local government and picked up a law degree from the University of Maine.

After a dozen years as sheriff, he went into private practice as an attorney and won election as a state senator, “a part-time seasonal job” where he has co-chaired the Criminal Justice and the Energy, Utilities and Technology committees.

He said he has a good working relationship with Senate President Mike Thibodeau, a Republican who’s also running for governor, and other GOP senators.

“I don’t demonize people,” Dion said. He said it’s important “to accept that it’s a nine-inning ballgame” and that respect and fair-mindedness will advance the cause better than clashing needlessly.

One thing he said he’s learned from his careers in law enforcement and politics is that there’s no good alternative to honesty about the issues and problems that arise.

“Ugly or beautiful, you have to deal with it,” Dion said. That willingness to call out what’s happening is one of his strengths, he said, and something that’s not true of everyone in politics.

He also vowed to talk directly with Mainers regularly because, he said, he has “the old-fashion notion” that it’s good to hear fresh ideas from people.

But, Dion said, he won’t necessarily move ahead with what people ask because a leader sometimes has to put principle over popularity to do what’s best for Maine.

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