Dean receives warm reception in last Statehouse speech

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(Host) Vermont Governor Howard Dean delivered a warm goodbye Wednesday to the state he’s led for 11 years. The Democrat leaves office this week to step up the pace in his presidential campaign. In his farewell address to a packed House chamber, Dean said the rest of the country could learn valuable lessons from how Vermonters resolve their differences.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Dean, the nation’s longest serving governor, has held office for more than a decade. But in his goodbye speech he didn’t dwell on the past. Instead, Dean thanked his staff, the state police officers who’ve been at his side and the 7,500 state employees. He also thanked the people he’s represented in five and a half terms as governor.

Dean says he drew his inspiration and ideas from the Vermonters he met as he traveled the state every year after the Legislature adjourned:

(Sound from Dean’s speech) “And over that next month or so, I’d just listen to ordinary Vermonters telling me their stories, telling me their hopes, telling me their dreams, telling me their sorrows. And out of that would come most of the legislative agenda for the following year. This is the people’s house and I have been very, very proud to be able to start my government service in this house and I am very, very grateful for the people of this state who have let me stay here for 20 years. I deeply thank the voters and the people of this state.” (Sound of applause in the House chamber.)

(Dillon) Dean only briefly mentioned the accomplishments that he’d like as his legacy, including his focus on health care, land conservation, and balanced budgets.

The governor leaves office to run full-time for president. And in perhaps a preview of his national campaign, Dean says Vermont could show the rest of the nation how to bridge its political divides.

(Sound from Dean’s speech) “How lucky we are that we live in a state where you can have a big argument with somebody in town meeting over the school budget, and three days later if their barn burns down, you’re there with a covered dish. We live in an extraordinary society because we deeply value each other as human beings. I think that Vermont is the way that America ought to be. America would be a stronger country if we valued each other as human beings more.”

(Dillon) Dean says that leaving office has touched him in ways that he hadn’t expected. The emotion spilled over into tears as he left the House chamber and embraced his friend, Attorney General William Sorrell. Sorrell’s mother, Esther Sorrell, was a long time state senator from Burlington. She was Dean’s political mentor and Dean credits her for getting him involved in politics back in 1980.

William Sorrell says there’s no doubt who they were remembering on Wednesday afternoon:

(Sorrell) “It was an emotional moment, yeah. I’m sure we were both thinking of my mother. Of course, Howard and I have been through a lot of wars together, and still more to fight. But yeah, it was an emotional moment, a special moment.”

(Dillon) Esther Sorrell was instrumental in Dean’s first campaign for office. He now leaves the Statehouse almost 20 years to the day after he came to Montpelier to serve as a freshman legislator from Burlington. He’s not taking a break from politics. On Thursday, he attends a fundraiser for his presidential campaign.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

Related link:
Governor Dean’s farewell address.

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