(Host) Democratic hopeful Howard Dean left the campaign trail this weekend to return to his home state of Vermont where police had cited his 17-year old son for trying to steal alcohol.
Monday in Burlington Dean will formally declare his candidacy for president. In the national campaign, Dean is widely perceived as one of the most left-leaning of the nine Democratic contenders. But that’s not how everyone in Vermont remembers him.
From Vermont Public Radio, John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) Howard Dean has gotten rave reviews from liberal voters around the country for his progressive views on the war and taxes and civil unions. At the same time, many centrist Democrats are not enamored of him.
The Democratic Leadership Council flat out says Dean is too liberal to be elected. Dean says they should just look at his record.
(Dean) And when they do they’re going to find that I’m a centrist, that I believe in balanced budgets. But I also believe in social justice. If health insurance for every American is a liberal Democratic value, then you may certainly call me a liberal.”
(Dillon) But not everyone back home would use the term “liberal.” Church Street in downtown Burlington is the heart of Vermont’s largest city. Howard Dean has lived here since the 1970s, and many Vermonters fondly remember his years in office.
(John Wymes) “I thought he was a good governor, I think he’ll make an excellent candidate.”
(Dillon) John Wymes of nearby Fletcher, Vermont says he supported Dean during his five gubernatorial campaigns, and now backs his presidential run.
(Wymes) he’s a reasonable person. If we need to raise taxes, he’ll raise them. If we need to cut them, he’ll cut them. He’s not tied to any ideology.”
(Dillon) As the state’s chief executive, Dean’s first focus was always to balance the state’s budget. When he first became governor in 1991, the state was in a recession, tax revenues were down and the budget was deep in red ink. Dean’s tightfisted approach to economic issues was not especially popular among liberals in his party, says Eric Davis, a Middlebury College political science professor.
(Davis) “Vermonters will certainly know that some of his biggest controversies as governor were with Democrats in Legislature who wanted either to spend more money or raise taxes in ways the governor opposed.”
(Dillon) Under Dean, the state retired the deficit, improved its bond rating, and set up rainy day funds for bad economic times. As a result, Vermont was spared the punishing budget cuts seen in many other states.
A medical doctor by training, Dean’s signature issue was health care. He took a program that provided health coverage for children under six and broadened it to include almost everyone under 18. Dean now says the rest of the country should follow Vermont’s lead.
But on the street in Burlington, Kim Jordan says Dean has oversold his accomplishments.
(Jordan) “I know that although attempts have been made, health care in Vermont is not at the paramount point that he claims it is in order to make health care available to the rest of the country. And there were a lot of opportunities available to him.”
(Dillon) His record includes passage of the nation’s first law to extend the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. But during his 11 years as governor, Dean quarreled frequently with activists on the left.
(Rivers) “I think he was very adept at marginalizing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.”
(Dillon) Former Vermont state senator Cheryl Rivers, a Democrat, remembers a very different Howard Dean than the image that’s developed on the campaign trail. As chairman of the state Senate Finance Committee, she fought with Dean over his plans to cut welfare benefits.
(Rivers) “Low income programs were definitely not a priority for him. I don’t think he specifically went after them, but they were not a priority.”
(Dillon) In the 1990s, Dean pushed the state to buy hundreds of thousands of acres to protect land from development. Environmentalists applaud this record on land conservation, but some say Dean was too eager to compromise in other areas. Mark Sinclair directs the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation.
(Sinclair) “He was a big booster for major business interests, like the ski industry and the utility industry. As a result during his reign you saw Vermont become more like the rest of the country in terms of seeing sprawl, increased water pollution, increased air pollution.”
(Dillon) And yet, Sinclair says Dean probably has the strongest environmental record of all the major candidates. And along with many other Vermont voters Sinclair wants Dean to win the nomination.
For NPR news, I’m John Dillon in Burlington, Vermont.