Dean Campaigns in Maine

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(Host) Mainers got a taste of Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s stump speech this week at a gathering in Portland, Maine. Dean flew in from Washington D.C. after a tour of Iowa, where he was testing the appeal of his message for a possible presidential run in 2004.

The message that Dean once called “passionate centrism” appeared to go down easily among the Mainers who heard him. Maine Public Radio’s Jeanne Baron has more.

(Sound from auditorium)

(Baron) Dean’s visit to this half-filled university auditorium was sponsored by the Katahdin Institute, a progressive think-tank in Portland. Dean was asked to address how society can create prosperity and justice. His answer? A balanced budget.

Dean counts balancing Vermont’s budget as one of his biggest achievements as governor of Vermont and he touted other successes: extending health care coverage to nearly all of Vermont’s children and providing early social assistance for children through his “Success by Six” program.

Dean told the audience that he would try to extend similar programs to the nation as a whole:

(Dean) “I’m a practical guy. We got there not because we had an ideological plan that this is how it should be done, but because piece by piece, bit by bit, every single year we did more and more and more.”

(Baron) Dean called for a universal health care system that would provide what he called a “bare bones” benefits package to the 16% of Americans who lack coverage. He went after President Bush, calling him a “borrow and spend” Republican. And he criticized the administration’s proposed economic stimulus plan. The governor said it provides tax cuts to people like former Enron executive Kenneth Lay, while reducing support for working class Americans.

Dean said innovative social programs become stable and long-lasting if the budget is balanced. And he said there are plenty of ideas to help create that balance, that are also in the public interest:

(Dean) “I say tax cigarettes, tax – you know – the things that aren’t good for you. If I could figure out a way to tax fat content ¿ with the exception of Ben & Jerry’s of course, which only has fat that is good for you ¿ I would probably do that.”

(Baron) Dean also suggested that pollution should be taxed. He called for a tax on wasteful packaging and on the generation of electricity that releases pollutants like nitrogen dioxide into the air.

According to Herb Adams, a Portland school board member, Dean’s real appeal came from his understanding of Northern New England:

(Adams) “That’s Maine nad Vermont people, the way we understand each other. And I think he’s good at making that touch with us as well as we would be with him. Town meetings like this in both Maine and Vermont are obviously something he knows well, and did well before us.”

(Baron) At the end of his speech, Dean reflected on the difficulties of coping with diversity, both in America and abroad. Two years ago Dean signed Vermont’s controversial civil unions law. He said that “the genius of democracy is in its diversity” and leaders should not be afraid of it.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Jeanne Baron in Portland, Maine.

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