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Facing the Nation

Inside Track


Published January 8, 2003 at 5:00 p.m.

Since he became Vermont's governor almost 11-and-a-half years ago, yours truly has written "volumes" about Gov. Howard Dean, M.D. The press, by definition, is supposed to be adversarial, and we've done our best to take Ho-Ho to task when his actions required it. Dr. Dean has been an honorable and worthy opponent and we'll miss him.

Now Ho-Ho rides off to face the nation. Sunday morning, he sat down with yours truly for an exclusive Seven Days interview. We hooked up with him at the WCAX-TV studio, where he'd just appeared via satellite on CBS' "Face the Nation." Dean masterfully handled all the "tough" questions about Iraq, North Korea, the Bush tax cut and national health care.

But we had other fish to fry. And for the first time ever, Dr. Dean opened up on topics ranging from his deeply held religious faith to his blunt assessment of Rush Limbaugh.

One of the most repellent requirements of politics, we noted, is the one demanding that the candidate repeat himself over and over and over. How do you handle the maddening repetition?

"It was one of things that was rammed into me very early," Dean replied. "You have to give the same speech 600 times. The smart people get bored with their own speech and they go off-message. That's when they get into trouble. You have to discipline yourself and be willing to say the same thing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times, because most of the people haven't heard it."

Since Dean's been doing more traveling lately than anyone we know, we asked if he'd noticed much anti-war sentiment around the country.

"Yes, and it's not just Democrats," he replied. "I was in North Dakota and there are a lot of Republicans out there who do not think we should be going to war. There are a lot of union guys who do not think we should be going to war."

In his national press coverage, Ho-Ho regularly cites George Washington as his favorite president. How cute! But we asked that he come clean and tell us who his real American hero is.

"But it is George Washington," insisted Dean, raising his voice. "And that's serious. That's not because he didn't tell a lie when he chopped down the cherry tree. George Washington developed the rule of law that the office was more important than the person. That was an extraordinary development. He was the first person in the Western world to do that!"

OK, OK, we said. But what about a childhood hero? For example, we confessed, Mickey Mantle of New York Yankee fame would top our list.

Dean fired back instantly with the name Elston Howard. The first black Yankee, Howard was primarily a catcher.

"He had the same name as me," said Ho-Ho, "and he played catcher, which I did in third grade. The great Yankee team of 1961 is still the best Yankee team ever, with the possible exception of 1927."

Howard Dean, native New Yorker and Yankee fan, was 12 years old in 1961. He was able to name for us the entire Yankee lineup.


Moving right along, we asked Dean to tell us what he really thinks of the press. He prefaced his response by insisting he was not pandering.

"The only thing that gets under my skin," replied Dean, "is when people don't know what they're talking about and don't do the work to find out... It is absolutely true that a good reporter who's thorough and careful is the most important barrier to venality and corruption, which will in the long run destroy democracy."

But what about Rush Limbaugh, the popular right-wing talk-radio star?

"I don't think most people, except for the people who are already converted right-wingers, believe what Rush Limbaugh says. So I don't worry about Rush Limbaugh very much," said Dean.

"What Rush Limbaugh does that's bad is crank people up with things that aren't so. He gets them all emotionally overwrought. He's a little like Father Coughlin." (A third of the nation tuned into Father Charles Coughlin's weekly broadcasts during the Depres-sion. Coughlin, a Catholic priest, became a passionate critic of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. He called him "Franklin Double-Crossing Roosevelt.")

"That's what Rush does," said Dean. "He's sort of a more sophisticated Father Coughlin, which I don't think exactly makes him a great American. I don't think he influences opinion."

Next, we noted the remarkably good timing that's accompanied Dean's political career. And we asked our favorite presidential hopeful if he feels a sense of destiny?

"No, absolutely not," replied Dean. "I do not. I just think you put one foot in front of the other and just keep doing what you have to do to get to where you're going to go."

Is there any particular philosophy Dean subscribes to?

"I studied a lot of philosophy in college and it convinced me that it's an enormous amount of fun and intellectual gymnastics," said Dean. "If we were so smart, we wouldn't have the human condition where we make so many mistakes. So there is no great philosophy that I think fits reality, because reality always throws you a curve ball."

Do you pray?

"Yes," he answered.

To God?


Do you say "Our Fathers?"


Is it a regular thing?


Do you feel you have a personal relationship with a su-preme being?

"Yes. Obviously it's not something I publicly wear on my sleeve. I would say I'm a New England-type religious person. I consider religion to be very private. I consider myself to be a religious person. I consider myself to be a Christian, a true Christian in the sense that I think that Jesus' life was the epitome of the way human beings ought to treat each other. I was baptized a Catholic, brought up an Episcopalian."

Today, Dean is a Congreg-ationalist. His wife is Jewish. He told Seven Days that he left the Episcopal Church about 20 years ago because the local church was holding up development of the lakefront bike path that he championed.

"I'm always amazed at the people who call themselves Christians who go out of their way to treat people the opposite of the way Jesus did."

What part of Jesus' teaching, we asked, stands out to you?

"The part that says 'love thy neighbor as thyself,'" he answered. "You know," remarked Dean, "no one's ever asked me about this before. I've never talked about it."

About time, eh?

Election Thursday! -- "It might be real interesting to see how it turns out," said State Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille).

Sen. Bartlett was referring to the upcoming secret-ballot election for lieutenant governor. As you know, neither Republican Jim Douglas nor Republican Brian Dubie received a majority of the vote in November. That means the real election will be held Thursday morning when 150 newly elected members of the House and 30 newly elected members of the Senate cast their votes.

Just about everyone expects Mr. Douglas, who got 45 percent of the popular vote, and Mr. Dubie, who got 41 percent, to win. But make no mistake, there will definitely be votes for other candidates, especially in the lieutenant governor's race.

"I have no intention of voting for Dubie," said State Rep. Ann Seibert (D-Norwich). The main reason, she said, is Dubie's position on abortion rights. During the campaign, Mr. Dubie said that "in a perfect world" he'd like to see Roe v. Wade overturned. That's the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave American women the right to choose.

Rep. Seibert told Seven Days that she has "no idea what kind of perfect world he wants. Does he have in mind the perfect world before Roe. v. Wade, with thousands of women dying from botched illegal abortions? Not too many people think that was a perfect world."

Rep. Seibert will be voting for the second-place finisher -- Democrat Peter Shumlin.

Burlington Progressive Rep. David Zuckerman won't be voting for Doobie-Doo, either.

"I'm not voting for Dubie," declared the ponytailed organic vegetable farmer. "I don't believe the majority supports Brian Dubie, and my district certainly doesn't."

Asked who he will vote for, either Shumlin or Progressive Anthony Pollina, the third-place finisher, Organic Dave replied, "I haven't figured that out yet."

You'll recall that both gubernatorial hopeful Doug Racine and running mate Peter Shumlin made a big deal out of the notion that the legislature should support the top vote-getter. They stood for principle, while Republicans Douglas and Dubie stood for winning by any means necessary. Jim and Brian rallied behind the constitutional right of each legislator to vote his or her conscience.

Of course, back then almost everyone expected the Repub-licans to hold onto their overall majority under the golden dome. But surprise, surprise!

The new legislature that kicks off this week will comprise 88 Democrats, 85 Republicans, four Progressives and three Independents. A candidate needs 91 votes to win.

Veteran Montpelier Democrat Francis Brooks told Seven Days he's not aware of any orchestrated move to deny Dubie victory.

"If it happens," said Rep. Brooks, "it will be spontaneous. There's nothing organized."

God forbid spontaneity, eh?

What Pollution? -- Let's see, now. Just what is the incoming Douglas administration's environmental agenda? After all, in his 47-page "Vision for Ver-mont," Diamond Jim addressed 14 specific issues from "Job Creation" and "Energy" to "Technology" and "Inter-national Trade." But "Environ-ment" didn't make his list.

Based on what Diamond Jim and Doobie-Doo said on the campaign trail, it'll be about downgrading environmental protection and upgrading the ability of the Agency of Natural Resources to speedily issue permits to any and every developer who applies. "What's good for business is good for the environment," appears to be the Douglas environmental mantra.

Meanwhile, the Douglas administration, with the help of Republican legislators and the powerful business lobbyists who have them eating out of their hands, will do all they can to elbow environmental-protection groups like the Conser-vation Law Foundation (CLF) off the permit playing field. Wherever Candidate Douglas went, he demonized CLF (www.clf.org) as an evil, out-of-state, environmental extremist group determined to stymie Vermont's growth.


"We're not from out of state," said CLF's Chris Kilian, a Vermont Law School graduate who previously worked for the Vermont Natural Resources Council. "CLF has had an office in Vermont for over 10 years. We have over a thousand Vermont members and over 20,000 members region-wide across New England."

And, you ask, just what is the goal of these extremists?

Ready for this? They want to stop the ongoing pollution of Lake Champlain! What nerve, eh?

Jim Douglas' "shoot-the-messsenger approach," said Mr. Kil-ian, "is an easy thing to do. Our incoming governor would prefer to silence an organization that's concerned about a pollution problem and points it out when a business interest or responsible state agency is responsible for cleaning up the problem."

As Mr. Kilian sees it, when the state gives the shopping centers that border Potash Brook a pass on dealing with their stormwater discharges, Lake Champlain takes the hit, and Lake Champlain belongs to everybody, not just shopping center developers.

Funny, but Chris Kilian doesn't sound like an extremist. Probably just a disguise, eh?