Editor's Note: They're the people who volunteer, who make decisions, who make things happen, in big ways and small. Their actions have changed York in measurable ways.
They often make the headlines as well as help their town move forward. Their views may not always be popular, but their passion and commitment are very real.
They are Movers and Shakers, and in this edition you'll find The York Weekly's picks for 2018.
YORK — A woman with “good judgment and an open mind,” a “critical thinker” who gets to the nub of a situation and lays out an appropriate plan of action, a “pleasant professional” who treats others with respect, a “real warrior” who doesn’t give up.
These are some of the accolades accorded former state sen. Dawn Hill, from those including Gov. Janet Mills and York residents alike. In early December, Hill ended her 12-year tenure as state legislator from York – serving two terms in the House and four in the Senate, where she faced term limits.
Along the way, she brought accountability to the Maine Turnpike Authority, served as chair of the Appropriations Committee, and was chosen by her peers as assistant Senate minority leader. For her work for the citizens of York and of the state of Maine, The York Weekly names her one of this year’s Movers and Shakers.
“Dawn has always shown good judgment and has been a productive member of the legislature,” said Mills, who first met Hill when they were both freshman House members and sat next to each other in the back row of the House chamber. “She’s very thoughtful, and deliberative and smart.”
In fact, Hill’s involvement with York predates her time as a legislator. Twenty years ago in 1999 she was hired by now-Town Manager Steve Burns as a staff person in the planning department, which he headed.
“She was great. She knew the rules, she was an attorney, she was a pleasant professional who knew her stuff and knew her way around town. That was a phenomenal bonus for us,” he said. “She had a bubbly smile, which sometimes made people underestimate her. But in fact she’s one of the most capable people I’ve ever worked with. There was this sense of, ‘Whatever it is you’re working on, it will be okay, because you’re working with Dawn.’”
She left to give attention to her Cape Neddick business, It’s a Dog’s World, a dog day care center that she still owns. She said didn’t plan to get into politics, calling it “a big surprise in my life,” but decided to give it a go when asked to consider running for an open House seat.
She was barely elected in 2006 when the Maine Turnpike Authority announced plans to build a massive new toll plaza with only cash booths – far larger than the recent plaza that is being built. In York, she championed the citizens’ activist group Think Again, which mobilized to fight the proposal.
“She was a breath of fresh air in terms of how she looked at things, and I always felt she was working not only in our best interests but in Maine’s,” said Think Again co-chair Marshall Jarvis. “She was able to guide us on how to do things, and she was totally supportive at the legislative level.”
That local impetus propelled Hill to look more closely at the structure of the MTA under then-director Paul Violette, and she soon found discrepancies that led her to push for an investigation by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.
The OPEGA report detailed illegal activities by Violette that ended in his conviction on criminal charges. “When she first got there, the MTA kind of walked on water,” said Jarvis. “But she stayed the course. If she hadn’t, Violette would probably still be there. I consider her a real warrior.”
Mills, whose brother Peter is the current MTA director, agreed. “Think of what she did to shed light on the turnpike authority. She did that pretty much on her own,” she said.
Meanwhile, now State Rep. Lydia Blume was organizing the Seacoast Democrats, a regional group still active today that works to put forth Democratic candidates in the Seacoast Maine region and provide support to statewide candidates as well.
“We worked together to bring in more area Democrats in preparation for the 2008 election. She was always encouraging and understood the importance of having a local office to support Democrats,” said Blume. “She was instrumental in helping recruit good local candidates.”
As Hill moved into the Senate, she spent several terms as Democrat lead and then chair of the Appropriations Committee. It was in part because of her experience handling state budgets that her caucus tapped her for assistant minority leader, under then-Minority Leader Justin Alfond.
“It was Dawn’s steady leadership, and her experiences from Appropriations, especially her knowledge of the budget process, that provided invaluable help to our team,” said Alfond.
He said he has always appreciated Hill’s perspective. “She made a wonderful career in Augusta of being a critical thinker and working across the aisle to find common ground,” he said. “Part of Dawn’s brand is asking tough questions, and thinking about the future and how we as a state should solve big and small challenges.”
She and Alfond met up again when they were tapped by Gov. Mills to serve on her transition team. During the campaign, Hill served as a member of Mills’ advisory “kitchen cabinet” as well. “She brought to the table experience in state government, serving on a number of committees. She knows every agency’s budget. Plus she comes from a business background. She’s a small business person. And she’s from York County,” said Mills.
Hill said her plan at the moment is “not to have a plan. The Legislature eats up a huge amount of your time. Now I kind of want to catch up with life and reconnect with friends and acquaintances and enhance those relationships again.”
Whatever she decides to do, “she has a lot to offer and people should look to her wise counsel,” said Mills.
“I wish her well,” said Blume, “and I hope the state of Maine will continue to receive the benefit of her insight and experience in whatever she does next.”