Howard Dean of Vermont: New England’s other candidate for president

By Becca MacLarenPrint Story | Email Story
Following significant defeats in Congress, the Democratic Party has kept a sharp eye on potential candidates for the 2004 presidential race. One of the first to emerge and cut the campaign trail also happens to be largely unknown outside of New England. Though Howard Dean lacks the name recognition and fundraising power of fellow hopefuls Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), his record — and vocal opposition to President Bush’s policies — set him apart from the pack. Dean alone has said that, if he sat in Congress, he would have voted against the resolution to declare war on Iraq. In eleven years as the governor of Vermont — the longest term in the state’s history — Dean eliminated a $70 million deficit and secured health coverage for 96 percent of the state’s children. Dean also passed a Civil Unions law, making Vermont the first state to legally recognize unions between gay and lesbian couples. During his long tenure, controversial policy decisions, as well as a straight-talking style, have earned censure from all corners. ”He defies labels, following a pragmatic, not partisan, path,” wrote Christopher Graff, Vt. bureau chief for the Associated Press. “He is, by his own admission, ‘an odd kind of Democrat,’ “ wrote Graff in a Jan. 4, 2003 editorial entitled “Howard Dean is our Harry Truman.” For this article, a reporter spoke with two politically active Vermonters on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum about Dean's governorship and his presidential aspirations. Their divergent views on his performance and leadership offers those unfamiliar with Dean a glimpse into possible issues in his bid for the White House. Barbara McIntyre is a long-time peace activist and trustee of the Peace Resource Center of Bennington. A Pittsfield native, McIntyre has lived in Vermont for 30 years, and served at one time as chair of the Bennington County Democratic Committee. Sen. Mark Shepard (R-Bennington) is a Vermont native and businessman serving his first term in the state Senate. Was Gov. Dean in touch? Dean earned his B.A. from Yale University, and a medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. A physician, Dean moved to Vermont in 1978 and shared a practice with his wife Judith Steinberg. Dean’s political life began in the Vermont House where he served for four years until 1986, when he was elected lieutenant governor. In 1991, with the sudden death of then-Governor Richard Snelling, Dean inherited what he once called "the greatest job in Vermont." McIntyre, who has known Dean since he was in the legislature, said she worked hard to support him when he ran for lieutenant governor. She described Vermont as well-suited to the approachable Dean. In this state, citizens have the opportunity to get to know their policymakers; “Most states aren't like that so I think we're very fortunate,” she said. Dean talked to people on the street every day, she said. As promised during his bid for lieutenant governor, he visited a different county every month. “He knows a lot of people from those's not all ribbon cutting like you see in other states,” said McIntyre. Senior citizens in particular love him, she added. In her own conversations with the former governor, McIntyre said she found him “very open if you don’t agree with him.” On the occasions when she questioned specific budget decisions, he provided her with good reasons; “His heart is in the right place,” she said. Sen. Shepard painted a very different portrait of Dean’s relationship with the people of Vermont. “He's quite out of touch,” especially with regard to issues in Bennington County, he said. Chittenden County fared better under Dean; the two areas are different and so was the attention paid them. Shepard said he didn’t think Dean studied the county and devoted enough energy to strengthening its business base. During his last two-year term, Vermont has not been a high priority for Dean, he said. Instead he’s focused on convincing others that he's a viable candidate for the presidency, said Shepard. “He checked out about a year ago when he started running around campaigning,” he said, noting that the state has footed the bill for police escorts during these travels. Leadership in Vermont and beyond Shepard said Vermont is recovering from over a decade of Gov. Dean’s short-term fixes that — sustained during his tenure — have left the state with a host of deep problems. “Overall I see his policymaking as more addressing immediate needs or desires or wants rather than looking at the long-term health of the state,” he said. Where he should have been focusing on building a sustainable business base, Dean sought short-term fixes to try to make people’s lives more pleasant for the short term, he said. McIntyre said simply, "He's been a good governor” who, unlike most politicians, "worked for all the people — not only for the rich." Dean also kept a balanced budget and doesn’t mince words — ”he won’t make promises he can’t keep,” she said. “He has a long record of consensus and compromise,” things she considers very healthy for the country. “I'm certainly going to vote for him.” Shepard revealed that he’s not opposed to Dean winning the Democratic primary — because he likes President Bush. Dean will be an easy win for Bush in the way that Michael Dukakis was with Bush’s father in 1988, he explained. Like Dukakis and his Massachusetts Miracle, later called a “Mirage,” Dean’s impact on Vermont will come to be seen in another light, said Shepard. Health coverage for all Gov. Dean strengthened the Dr. Dynasaur program to provide health coverage for 96 percent of the state’s children under 18. 92 percent of Vermonters have health insurance. According to the website for his political action committee, Fund for a Healthy America, Vermont has one of the highest rates of immunized children in the country. On the Dean for America site, he outlines a program, similar to the one in Vermont, for guaranteeing coverage to all Americans. States will be required to cover all children under age 23, while the federal government assumes responsibility for drugs and acute medical care for those over age 65. To cover Americans that fall between those age groups, “we should use the present employer-based system with refundable tax credits and federal subsidies to cover low- and moderate-income Americans who lack insurance.” In Shepard’s view, Dean’s health care policies were extremely detrimental to Vermont. “We all desire that folks are covered,” but the state can’t afford to pay for the 25 percent of the population supported by Medicaid, he said. This ends up raising the cost for private businesses. Dean wants to get more people onto things but he's unwilling to pay the bill, said Shepard. The state needs a stronger economy; if it was stronger, the need wouldn't be there, he added. The expansion of Medicaid to include a lot of lower income people is evidence of Dean’s compassion, said McIntyre. This is starting to erode with new Gov. James Douglas, she said. Instead of co-payments, Douglas wants higher deductibles, which will end up knocking people off and creating tough income restrictions. “The gains were hard won but easily lost,” said McIntyre. “Sometimes we go two steps forward and two steps back.” Social justice through fiscal responsibility Gov. Dean has often said that social justice is inextricably tied to fiscal responsibility. When he became governor in 1991, he inherited a $70 million deficit. He eliminated this deficit and worked with lawmakers to build "rainy day" reserves for tough economic times. Dean cut the income tax twice, removed sales tax on most clothing and reduced the state's long term debt. These are things McIntyre hopes people realize about the former governor. “He is fiscally responsible..he's not making promises that he can't keep,” she said. While he gives Dean credit for getting Vermont on a better fiscal course, Shepard attributes much of this success to the unprecedented financial boom of the 1990s. Though he always emphasized keeping a balanced budget, “I think Dean benefited from our national economy,” said Shepard. He added that the economic good times of the ‘90s never hit Bennington like they could have. Civil unions On his website, Dean describes working with leaders of both parties in the legislature to create Civil Unions, a legal relationship for same-gender couples. Dean describes this decision as a defining moment in his political career. “I knew ... that if I did not support civil rights for every American I would be just another competent manager rotating through political office, who never stood up when confronted with such a choice,” wrote Dean. “I could be politically expedient, or I could do what was right.” The site goes on to observe that Dean was re-elected by a 12-point margin following this politically charged stand; “Today, a majority of Vermonters support civil unions,” reads the site. McIntyre agrees with this assessment, noting the bill passed because people came to accept it and told their legislators to ‘go for it.’ The threats from Vermont’s conservative wing — that the bill would do in Dean and every legislator who voted for it — have come to nothing, she said. The Right said that giving gays and lesbians more rights would change the whole landscape of Vermont, she said. The bill was twisted into something it wasn’t and, in the three years since it passed, people have come to accept it. For Shepard, the Civil Union law falls in line with Dean’s pushing of the short-term with no regard for long-term consequences. It’s still too early to see the negative impacts; these things don’t happen overnight, he said. The law’s effect on Vermont schools is of special concern to Shepard. Because homosexual and heterosexual relationships are put on a legal par with each other, they must both be addressed in health class, he explained. This undermines the values and positions of some parents; Shepard said one constituent told him their sixth grade son learned in class that he could marry his [male] friend. Shepard noted problems with sexually transmitted diseases — often the result of promiscuity. While promiscuity is not limited to homosexuality, this type of disease needs to be limited, not expanded, he said. At its root, the law is a violation of the Constitution’s Article 7 benefits clause, said Shepard. The law does not “meet the muster” because it is not beneficial to the entire society, he said. “When you start playing around with the Constitution, it’s very serious,” he said. “We're a society of laws, we need to take them seriously.” Dean was naive to try to change, in a matter of weeks, what has been in place for thousands of years. “It's important for a family to have both genders represented...I think history shows that,” he said. War in Iraq "I have serious concerns about the increasingly unilateralist approach to foreign policy we have seen from the current Administration,” says Dean on his website. Though any president must be prepared to use force to protect the nation’s interests, he doesn’t believe President Bush has made the case that war in Iraq is justified. "The war on terror — against an enemy that has killed over 3,000 innocents on our soil — is far from over, yet we are shifting our focus from the known threat of Al Queda to the less certain threat of Saddam Hussein,” writes Dean. Asked about this stance on the potential war in Iraq, Shepard said, “I think Dean realizes he needs to differentiate himself.” President Bush is in a very, very difficult spot; he has information that some, including Dean, do not, he continued. Though Shepard said that without knowing everything, he wasn’t prepared to say whether he would have voted for the war resolution, he emphasized the gravity of the situation in Iraq. “We don't know exactly what's going on. We know Hussein doesn't have a lot of respect for human life,” he said. “In the '40s with Hitler we didn't get involved and six million Jews died...President Bush is presiding in a most difficult time.” Only time will tell whether Bush was right or not, though, Shepard added, if the U.S. does not declare war in Iraq and there are more attacks like those of Sept. 11, 2001, Dean will be the first to step forward and say we should have. McIntyre, who has been busy recently taking part in anti-war demonstrations with the Peace Resource Center, said she was “really proud of [Dean] for coming out the way he has.” Dean himself appears to view the deep ideological divide between himself and the current administration as key to his appeal for discouraged Democrats. On an unofficial website devoted to information about Dean, www.howard-dean-for-president, he’s quoted as saying, "I think Democrats are very interested in somebody who speaks their mind very frankly and is not afraid to take on conventional wisdom such as rolling back the tax cuts."
If you would like to contribute information on this article, contact us at

NAPL: Understanding Artificial Intelligence Presentation

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — On Wednesday, April 24, at 6:00 PM, the North Adams Public Library will host a presentation titled "Understanding Artificial Intelligence." 
The event aims to explore various facets of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, catering to those fascinated, anxious, or simply curious about these technologies.
Williams College professors Mark Hopkins and Rohit Bhattacharya will lead the seminar, delving into topics such as the differences in reasoning between humans and AI, the evolving human-computer relationship as AI advances, language acquisition by computers, and potential challenges as AI becomes more prevalent.
The seminar will take place in the 3rd-floor community room of the library. No registration is required.
The North Adams Public Library is located at 74 Church Street, North Adams, MA, 01247. 
View Full Story

More North Adams Stories