Candidate Dean

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(Host) Commentator Dick Mallary says that there’s a question making the rounds these days, to which he thinks there is no easy answer.

(Mallary) Whenever I go out of state these days and people learn that I come from Vermont, I am confronted with some version of the same question. What can you tell me about Howard Dean?

On a recent trip to Maine, people from as far away as North Carolina and Illinois expressed great interest in Dr. Dean’s presidential bid and asked me what I thought of him. They seem to be looking for knowledge or reassurance from those who might know him better. They ask me: What is he like? What kind of a governor was he? What do you think about his chances?

I find it hard to give simple answers to these questions. The Howard Dean that I read about as candidate for president of the United States doesn’t seem to be the same Howard Dean that we became familiar with as our governor for more than ten years.

I tell people that he was a generally popular governor who was reelected five times and that he presided successfully over the state during a relatively prosperous period. He seemed to be a fiscal moderate. He found money to expand health care for children and invest in land conservation while, at the same time, balancing the budget and building up the State’s rainy-day funds.

I tell them that he used to be a mediocre orator, but that he connected wonderfully with smaller groups in a give-and-take environment. I tell them that he is bright and articulate, apparently open, candid and direct, but that he sometimes gets his facts wrong and gives opinions that have not been fully thought through.

I point out that the two landmark policy changes during his terms, Act 60 school funding and the Civil Unions bill, were the result of court decisions. They were not his initiatives and he was not a leader in their adoption. He was a pragmatist who could sense how far the electorate would go and who used his influence to shape the direction of government activity.

So, who is the Howard Dean that we now see on the national stage? Who is the fiery, lectern-thumping orator that is energizing crowds across the country? Is the fiscally orthodox Howard Dean of balanced budgets in Vermont the same Howard Dean who is wooing the labor unions with visions of protectionism? Is the “tell it like it is” governor of Vermont the same person who now says that we don’t have to raise the age of retirement to preserve Social Security? Is the pragmatist of Vermont adjusting his message to resonate with a wider and different audience? And, if this message succeeds with that target audience, is it a message that could carry him to victory in November, 2004.

I tell people who ask me that the candidate that they see isn’t the Howard Dean that I thought I knew.

It’s exciting for us Vermonters to be thus in the national spotlight, but I tell people who ask that I don’t think that I can offer much real guidance. They’ll have to decide for themselves.

This is Dick Mallary of Brookfield.

Dick Mallary has served extensively in state government and is a former U.S. Congressman from Vermont. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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