Don't miss the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin's great profile of ACLU of Illinois Legislative Director Mary Dixon (subscription required). Titled "Dixon keeps 'hope alive'" it describes her amazing work over 19 years of representing the ACLU in Springfield:
It was a veto session and while the timing may have been right, Mary E. Dixon wasn't convinced the bill to repeal the state's death penalty was going to survive.
"I was probably one of the naysayers of the group," the longtime legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said of the coalition that pushed the repeal. "It was difficult for me to believe that [lawmakers would] do the right thing on this because of the difficulty, in part, politically of such a vote."
Dixon, however, must have kept her concerns to herself because those who lobbied the controversial bill alongside her said she was the one who brightened the group's spirits when things looked bleak.
"Everyone was discouraged when we were stuck on 58 votes for three weeks and she kept saying 'We can do this,' " said James R. Covington III, who, as the legislative director of the Illinois State Bar Association, worked closely with Dixon and several other lobbyists to further the efforts of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
"She kept everyone's heads above water," Covington said. "She kept hope alive."
Dixon's ability to stay positive is just one of the many reasons her colleagues say she has earned such a great reputation in her nearly 20 years as the ACLU's top lobbyist.
Aside from her work on the death penalty repeal and the civil unions bill, which the ACLU drafted, Dixon has played an integral role in the passage of numerous measures dealing with criminal justice, free speech, juvenile, privacy, reproductive rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
John Peller, director of government relations for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, is one of the handful of lobbyists the ACLU regularly collaborates with.
In fact, she kind of trained him. Peller said over the years, Dixon has been nice enough to train about three generations of AIDS Foundation lobbyists.
"She's been doing this for so long and has that persuasive demeanor that speaks from a place of knowledge and confidence," he said. "I wish I could bottle Mary's skills."
They are currently lobbying for the passage of the sex education bill. He said she is knowledgeable, persistent and strategic, not to mention a pro at forming partnerships.
Covington agreed, saying that Dixon is like a good coach, who is "good at putting people in positions where they can make plays."
He also agreed with Peller on Dixon's persistence.
"I have hidden from her before," Covington said with a laugh, referring to a few instances in which he didn't want to team up with the ACLU on an issue. "She always tracks me down."