(Editor’s note: Apparently an e-mail of Michael Colby’s attack on Howard Dean from February is in wide circulation. One individual, Jeff Kaufman, took time to draft a reply – which itself is now circulating by e-mail. In the interest of balancing the debate, I thought it a good idea to let Kaufman’s comments get some airtime. —Rick)
I recently received a widely circulated e-mail with an attack on Howard Dean headlined, The Man from Vermont is Not Green (He’s Not Even a Liberal) written by Wild Matters editor Michael Colby. The gross inaccuracies of this piece demand a response, especially for people who dont know Vermont. Clouded by his narrow vision of political purity, the author misses both the remarkable record of Howard Deans tenure as governor and his great promise as a presidential candidate.
As a former Vermont radio and television talk show host (now living in Los Angeles and supporting the Dean campaign), Ive had an unusually up-close view of Howard Dean and Vermont politics. During my five years as a daily radio talk show host in Vermont, I broadcast from every corner of the state and live each week from the Statehouse. I also served on my local elementary school board and co-founded a pro-environment community planning group. That proximity to the states concerns convinced me that Howard Dean is the real thing: a person with a progressive long-term vision who has the courage to make tough decisions and the rare ability to push through substantial accomplishments.
The article begins with a series of personal attacks against Howard Dean that may reveal more about the writer than his intended target. For instance, the author faults Dr. Dean for being born into a wealthy Wall Street family, rather than giving him credit for leaving that safe background for a public service career as a doctor and elected official. Even though Howard Dean has lived in Vermont for over 25 years (almost half his life), the writer calls him a carpet-bagging politician. Howard Dean first entered Vermont politics fighting for a lakeside bike path, while at the same time running a family medical practice with his wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg. Thats hardly a Machiavellian path to power.
The writer continues: Dean became Vermont’s accidental governor in 1991 after Governor Richard Snelling died of a heart attack while swimming in his pool. Dean, the lieutenant governor at the time, took the state’s political reins and immediately followed through with his promise not to offend the Snelling Republicans who occupied the executive branch. And Dean carried on with his right-leaning centrism for the next eleven, long years.
Howard Dean was an accidental governor in the same way that Teddy Roosevelt was an accidental president. Rather than diminish Governor Deans stature, the tragedy that led to his position of responsibility is a sign of his ability to rise to a challenge and excel. With Governor Snellings death, Howard Dean inherited the states worst economic downturn in decades. Occasionally alienating conservatives, moderates, and yes, liberals, Howard Dean balanced the budget and actually built up the best financial rainy day fund in the states history. This accidental governor was then elected five times to become Vermonts longest serving modern chief executive.
Sliding from unfounded personal insults to unfounded political insults, the author then accuses Howard Dean of having a mediocre gubernatorial record. On what standard does he base that claim? During his decade in office, Governor Dean helped protect more land from development than all previous governors combined; he fought for (against huge sometimes violent conservative opposition) and won a new school funding system that brought long overdue opportunity to thousands of poor children; he brought health care coverage to almost 92% of Vermonters, including virtually all children; he backed and signed into law Civil Unions protection for same-sex couples (how many politicians have shown that kind of courage?); he continually fought for a womans right to choose her own reproductive future; he built an early childhood health intervention program that is a model for the country; he brought to the state new, hi-tech, high-paying jobs that help pay for good schools and social services; he administered a best practices agriculture plan that preserves land and water quality; he helped form the nations first statewide energy efficiency utility (preventing more than one million tons of greenhouse gas emissions since 2000); and he championed a commuter rail system to lower traffic congestion and pollution while diminishing urban sprawl (in its last report on sprawl, the Sierra Club ranked Vermont as the second best state in America for land use planning).
Mediocre? More like inspiring. But perhaps the best way to judge the authors political judgment and those who circulate his opinions is to go back to the last presidential election.
Mr. Colby was a member of a group called Environmentalists Against Gore that declared, “Some people say we can’t vote for Ralph Nader because that would help put a Republican in the White House, but nature and public health will be better protected even if George Bush wins the election, because the national environmental groups that ignore or excuse Al Gore’s double talk may stand up and fight if a Republican makes those same bad decisions.”
If you agree that nature and public health are better protected with George Bush in the White House, then Ive got a coal-burning power plant in Ohio that Id like to sell you. If, on the other hand, you want an honest, gutsy, visionary candidate who can connect you to the best traditions of the Democratic Party and actually defeat George W. Bush, then Id urge you to support Governor Howard Dean.
– Jeff Kaufman