Wednesday, March 19, 2003

From the Howard Dean homefront

On another subject, Thomas Stevens writes in from Vermont:
I read your piece, excerpted below, about Howard Dean, and I thought I'd chime in on a couple of pieces. I have lived in Vermont for ten years now, and up until January, Dean was the governor. As I type this, I remember an article by a columnist in Arkansas who told the "real" story behind Clinton before the campaign began in earnest -- how Clinton was not a liberal and not a "doer," but a maker of committees, whose reports would be buried, and so on.

As a candidate, Howard Dean is far more liberal than he was a governor. As a governor, in fact, he was truly a classic Vermont Republican (not unlike Jeffords), in that he was a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. Being a fiscal conservative is a necessity in our state -- our total population is approx.600,000, and at least 150,000 of those are kids 0-18.

You said:
"I've particularly admired both his outspokenness and the content of the things he's said. Lately, however, he has been saying things that have made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Not because I disagree with his basic thinking, but because he expressed it in a way that makes me think he doesn't know what he's talking about."

On the one hand, that is the most accurate statement I have read about Dean's style in a non-Vermont commentary.

Vermont is on its way to becoming a formerly agricultural state. It took until the 1990 census (I believe) for humans to outnumber cows here. The drop in ag is not his fault at all, but he did not fully support agrotourism, or cutting edge crops that could have benefited our culture as a whole (such as hemp). He showed his upbringing by urging relaxation of environmental protection laws in order to attract business at the expense of ag and the enviroment. He wasn't radical about it, and he didn't "end welfare as we know it," as Clinton did, but he frayed the edges and made it possible for a continued attack on a weakened law by the monied developers.

Health care: Instituted Dr. Dynasaur, a fine, Medicaid-based program to insure children, but closed the door on the single-payer system, which, if it is to work at all, would work in a small state like ours. The last study done identified over $100,000,000 in savings to the public if the single-payer were instituted here. As with every other state, the insurance lobby is too strong.

Education: Dean's hand was forced by the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled that the pre-existing way of funding of education was unconstitutional. In trying to fashion a progressive way of equalizing education funding statewide, legislators were effectively ordered to rely on the property tax when Dean said he would not support using the income tax. Act 60, as it is called, has been a boon to the poorer communities in our state, not that you would know that if all you heard was the kicking and screaming by the richer, or, as we call them, "gold towns" (i.e., towns with a ski mountain or Burlington). The property tax solution is beginning to fall apart, and the fear is that the gold towns will use "reform" to continue to screw the poorer communities. The problem they have is that if the new plan doesn't meet strict criteria, the Supreme Court will rule against them. Finally, Dean has always been good on child-oriented bills.

Civil Unions: Again, Dean's hand was forced by the Court. He immediately ruled out "gay marriage" and left the legislature to come up with civil unions. In the end, it turned out fine, even if we had to put up with Randall Terry for six months. He did, however, sign the bill in a private session with no photos taken.

A lot of Dean's freshness comes from shooting from the hip. But he has been a DLC plus governor. As a candidate, he remained that way, and I envisioned him stripping the plus if he won a primary or two, and becoming another Dukakis, who lost his individuality after the nomination. Dean gives as good as he takes and he found a niche with the anti-war stance. As far as I can tell, it is honest, but what do I know, it wasn't an issue as governor. As for his e-mail treatment, I think it has more to do with the lack of campaign staff he had until recently. Perhaps now they are dismissed, but I imagine up until now they were overwhelmed.

Oh yeah, don't underestimate the whiteness of Vermont. NASCAR is big up here -- Golly, Ken Squier is from my town -- and we have plenty of crackers, but the battle is between natives and flatlanders. That doesn't excuse his use of the Confederate flag -- he's too smart to do that and should be called to task.

If you want more on him, try checking out Peter Freyne, the political columnist for Seven Days, a weekly out of Burlington.

As of today, Dean has my vote. The rest of them are pathetic, from Lieberman to Edwards. I may choose Kerry, but Dean has the rhetorical chops to cut them up. On style alone, I'll vote for him. Substance, well...

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