Maine’s New Public Advocate — Dick Davies

Dick Davis stands next to the governor after being sworn in as ME’s Public Advocate

by Ramona du Houx

Long after most personnel have left the Statehouse, a light might still be burning in one of the governor’s offices. If so, a calm, reassuring voice would be heard on the phone, and at one point Dick Davies would emerge to get another cup of coffee that would sustain him through the next round of phone calls.

As Governor Baldacci’s senior policy advisor, he kept the governor informed, mainly on utility and energy issues. Davies was always on call in case of an emergency, always informed, and always took the time to help everyone. Davies not only could recite statistics and the history of an issue that he oversaw, he would give you insights about the issues that would put everything into perspective.

Patient, poised, and pragmatic, Davies works with a dedication and determination that is rare to find. For him, at the end of the day, if he has helped progress what the people of the state need, that’s what matters the most. That’s the reason why Davies decided upon a life in public service.

"I’ve been here through the last five governors," said Davies, referring to his time in state government.

"Dick Davies has served the state for a long period of time; he has given tremendous amounts of his life and his family’s as a sacrifice," said Governor Baldacci. "I’m grateful for his tremendous service. I know we are getting a great public advocate."

When he was a student at the University of Orono, where he earned his BA and MA, he was compelled to run for student government. Ever since then he’s been involved in politics. Davies served in the Maine House of Representatives for eight years and was active in reforming utility laws during his tenure in the Legislature. He chaired the Committee on Energy and the Committee of Public Utilities.

"When I was a legislator I was the sponsor for the first law in the nation that eliminated mandatory retirement. It became a model that the other 49 states and the federal government eventually adopted," said Davies, recalling the achievement that is the most memorable for him. "I kicked over the first stone that eventually led to the elimination of a social policy that caused a lot of very talented people being forced out of work simply because they turned 65."

It took tenacity to get the law passed, for the governor at the time, Longley, originally vetoed the bill. "But we managed to override his veto."

Somehow, despite what many would consider overwhelming obstacles, Davies gets the task at hand accomplished.

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Governor Baldacci’s chief of staff, Jane Lincoln, witnesses Richard Davis’ appointment to Public Advocate.

"Dick has worked with the most controversial issues in state government, in the state of Maine, and has always had the respect of the parties involved, whether they agreed or disagreed with him, which is a great attribute to have," said Baldacci.

In fact Davies negotiated the compromise that created the Office of Public Advocate, in 1981. He never imagined that 26 years later he would be sworn in as public advocate for the state of Maine, after a unanimous vote of the state Senate.

"The Office of Public Advocate is responsible for representing the using-and-consuming pubic on utility matters. I’ll have a wide array of public utility matters that I’ll be involved in, telecommunications, electricity, ferry service, water districts, and the like. I’m particularly interested in finding ways for consumers to protect their own interests. My office has limited resources, and we can’t intervene in every case that comes along. The degree that consumers know their rights and can advocate for themselves, with whatever the utility that may be in question, means there is less need for an agency like mine to represent them in every proceeding that comes along," said Davies. "I’ll be working to find ways to get them more engaged, whether it’s in publications like Rate Watches, which is a guide that educates people on how to use their utilities, or possibly engaging a community educator that will go out and meet with schools and civic organizations and others, to help them understand how they can play a role in making sure that what they pay and the service they get from their utilities is as good as possible."

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Before joining the governor’s staff, Davies served as president of Public Policy Associates, Inc., where his clients ranged from a natural gas utility to an association of Community Action Program agencies. Davies’ experience and diplomatic abilities enabled him to successfully help implement the governor’s energy and utility policies.

When it came time to showcase state government as an example to follow with sound energy policies, Davies was there, and he ensured that energy issues became a high priority.

"The whole effort to make energy a high priority within state government and putting in place a number of measures that demonstrate the state leading by example was probably the most important work I’ve done while working for the Baldacci administration," said Davies. "That included improving gas mileage of the State fleet, adding hybrid vehicles, reducing the amount of commuting that State employees did — by doing more telecommuting — and changing over how the State handles purchasing of electricity.

"We bought in more green power, lowered the State’s electric bill by $4 million by bidding out contract long term, put in place the governor’s solar initiative, an energy conservation program for natural-gas customers, and the governor’s omnibus legislation. That legislation did a number of important things. It gave a tax break for using biodiesel, changed the way we handled contracts for long-term power, and how people get their electricity. All these measures are improving energy efficiency and costs to customers."

The governor’s omnibus legislation has allowed the recent memoranda of understanding between New Brunswick and Maine, which could lead to an energy exchange between the two countries and lower electricity rates.

"The issues that Dick has been working on, his knowledge and experiences are going to be critical to the state. There isn’t anyone more experienced. You couldn’t have a better person in this position," said Baldacci. "He recognizes the challenges we have in the state in telecommunications, energy transmission and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To have Dick in this position is good for the future of the state."