On The Record: Vermont Gov. Howard Dean
By Greg McDonald, Senior Writer
Stateline.org: You've already been to Iowa several times since the first of the year. Why so much of the focus on Iowa?
Dean: Yeah. I've been seven (times). For me it's a great state. It's a lot like Vermont in terms of the people, the education, the interest in politics. I'm very, very comfortable out there and it's a place I think I can do well.
Stateline.org: I guess it's fair to say you're probably the first horse out of the barn in the Democratic race for the presidency.
Dean: Yep. That's true. I'm already legally filed as a candidate (on 5/28), which nobody else has done yet.
Stateline.org: Are you borrowing a page from Jimmy Carter's campaign book and do you agree that there may be some comparisons made?
Dean: Yeah, and I think there is some comparison. Jimmy Carter is the reason that I got into politics, and I always admired his tenacity and campaign style. There are some similarities. I am the only governor in the race and I think Jimmy Carter was the only governor in that race, but I'm not positive. And I certainly come from a small state and have to deal with the name recognition and the money, and all the other handicaps that small state governors have....
Stateline.org: Is his approach to government something that you've adopted?
Dean: I'm not consciously setting out to imitate his candidacy. The issues that we're focusing on are the deficits that are really going to lead the country into really serious trouble. I want healthcare or health insurance for every American. We need to do that and that's one of my principle issues, if not the principle issue, in the campaign. And the third (issue) is investment in early childhood, in very small children and their families.
But when you get out on the (campaign) trail you also hear about job insecurity and mistrust in corporate America. So, I obviously spend some time talking about that, as well as terrorism and so forth...There was really one big issue when Jimmy Carter was running and that was trust in government. I think we may end up having a similar type of campaign this time because the big issue may be trust in business. And, of course, this particular government is so closely entwined with the business community that I think they'll rise and fall on what happens here in terms of corporate accountability.
Stateline.org: In terms of your healthcare priorities, the legislature, I think, defeated what you were trying to do there in Vermont.
Dean: Actually, they didn't. What happened is it just ran out of gas. It was really, more or less, the special interests that defeated it. What we have here, though, is virtually universal insurance for everyone under 18. So the plan I have for the country is based on the notion that if we can get universal insurance for everybody under 18 in a small state that's just 26th in the country in income, that we can do it for everybody at the national level.
Stateline.org: At the same time you were having problems there, (President) Clinton was having problems with his own healthcare plan.
Dean: The lesson to learn here is that when we do this and we will do this one way or the other, and if I get elected I'm going to do it in my first term is to build on an existing system. The death knell for the Clinton plan was the Harry and Louise ads. They didn't get killed in Congress so much as when they went to the American people, the plan was so complicated people couldn't understand it.
And so my plan is based on what we've done in Vermont for kids, for seniors, plus a prescription benefit, and then using the employer based system for everybody in between. So that the 80 percent of the people who have healthcare are not going to hear a message about how your health care may be taken away from you, or some such nonsense. Because it's not true. Their system is not going to change that much, if at all.
Stateline.org: As you've traveled around the country, have you noticed any difference in the way people react to politicians who are campaigning for national office now post 9/11?
Dean: Well, right now I'm principally talking to Democratic activists, so they're delighted to see me.... Their overall feeling is that Democrats nationally have been too timid about going after the president's lack of a domestic agenda. And that's what I do, so they're delighted to hear what I have to say for the most part.
Stateline.org: Can you expand a little on that? Do you think the president has been falling back on 9/11 and failing to address other issues?
Dean: I think the president's only addressed one issue and that's the war on terrorism. Other than his war on terrorism, his foreign policy has been a failure and there hasn't been any domestic policy as far as I can see. And he certainly hasn't done anything to deal with the climate of corporate inappropriate activity because he's part of the making.... I mean the single worst appointment that President Bush made was Harvey Pitt to the SEC because it opened the door and sent a signal that there would be no accountability whatsoever. I understand that ... the president's going to make a big speech about corporate accountability. But it doesn't matter what you say, it's what you do. And what the president's done is send really bad signals to the corporate world about what will and what will not be permitted.
Stateline.org: And you think that's going to be an issue that Democrats can really...
Dean: I think it's a huge issue because it was brought to me by the public. It was not one I set out to push. I'm a health insurance guy. I want everybody to have health insurance and I want the budget balanced.... The two really big issues are health insurance and the budget being balanced. This is not my issue; this is a public issue. It's coming to me from the people.
Stateline.org: Is all this tied in with a lot of uneasiness, still, about the economy?
Dean: Yeah. That's why health insurance is such an enormous issue because of the economy. People are terrified they're going to lose their health insurance.
Stateline.org: Why would you, after having had the experience of running a state - a difficult job for any politician - want to go through all of that again at probably even a much more intense level of running for, or actually being president?
Dean: First of all, as a doctor I think I'm in the most unique position...to deliver health insurance to the American people. Secondly, I'm appalled by the deficit, the borrow and spend politics. This is the third Republican president in a row who's cranked up the size of the national debt dramatically. We just can't afford as a country to do that anymore. And thirdly, and probably most important, this country didn't get to be a great country because people who had ideas decided they didn't want to put in any effort. If you want the country to be a great country, you've got to get out and fight for what you believe in.
Stateline.org: You are the first out of the barn, as we said, but who else do you see on the Democratic side getting in?
Dean: My assumptions are (Massachusetts Sen. John) Kerry, (former Vice President Al) Gore, (House Minority Leader Dick) Gephardt, and (North Carolina Sen. John) Edwards.
Stateline.org: You don't think you'll see (Senate Majority leader Tom) Daschle?
Dean: I'm just giving you my best guest. I'm the world's worst prognosticator. I wouldn't put any stock in what I told you at all. But you asked for my opinion and I gave it to you...I don't think I have any better guess or ability than you do probably worse.
Stateline.org: So do you at least feel you've got a good jump on them?
Dean (laughing): I wouldn't say I have a jump on them at all. My attitude is I'm just playing catch-up.
Stateline.org: Are you going to the (National Governors Association) meeting in Boise (7/13-17)?
Dean: Yeah, but only for a day.
Stateline.org: What do you see as some of the most important issues facing the governors?
Dean: I'll tell you what the issues are, but that doesn't mean they're going to be discussed because the White House puts enormous pressure on Republican governors to stay in line.
Stateline.org: On terrorism?
Dean: Well, on everything. So, you're not going to hear a lot of public discussion. But the issues that are the big issues in the states right now are, one, financial; two, Medicaid because it's the biggest piece of our financial problem; three, the president's education bill, which is turning out to be a huge unfunded mandate - which they won't discuss, of course, because it's the president's bill. But it's a real serious problem and that's becoming more and more apparent. And then, fourth, homeland security types of issues.
Stateline.org: Is the homeland security issue as big of a problem now since the federal government has come up with at least some money to help the states deal with it?
Dean: I think the federal government has been very good about homeland security. I don't have any complaints. Maybe a few small ones, but nothing significant. They've come up with some money that we need. They're serious about it. They're doing their homework. It was a little ragged at first, but who can blame them for that? So, I have very few complaints about the federal government's homeland security efforts and financial support (to the states).
Stateline.org: As you get into the summer and head into the fall, where are you going to be spending your time? And I assume you'll be raising some money as well?
Dean: We're raising some money. But most of the time is being spent in Iowa and New Hampshire, and South Carolina. There are other places we go. We're spending a lot of time in California. But those are the three states we're really paying close attention to.
Stateline.org: Those are the early ones?
Dean: Those are the early primary states. We're trying to sign up activists and get our house in order in those states.
Stateline.org: And are you finding it difficult to sign up people this early?
Dean: Less difficult than I thought. I have an advantage in the race despite the fact that the other folks are going to have much more money than I will and better name recognition, and better ability to raise money. What they don't have is they haven't been governor. There's a certain connection between a governor and the American people that doesn't exist if you're from Washington. It's not that I'm any smarter than any of the people in this race, most of whom I like and some of whom I've worked for president in the past. It's that my job has been so different for the last 11 years that I have an ability to really connect with people in a very no-nonsense way, which governors have to do. I mean I have a press conference every single week where people get to basically ask me any damn thing they please, and I've got to answer it. That really comes in handy when you're in a state like Iowa. And you know we are actually beginning to sign people up, which has astonished me, but it has also delighted me.
Stateline.org: Did you consult with Mr. Gore or any other Democratic leaders when you decided to run?
Dean: No. You know, it's an open seat. I think it's important that all of us are out there. I mean it's really like five of us being able to go after the president's record at once. I think that's a good opportunity for the Democrats. I'd like to be president, but if that's not going to happen, I'd like to make sure the next president will be committed to universal health insurance and balancing the budget and all that kind of business. So I figure I'm in this race for two reasons: first of all because I intend to win and, secondly, because I think I can move the party and the country whether I win or not. (Laughing) Obviously, I could move them a lot further if I win, but I don't get to make that choice. All I get to do is put my ideas out there and put me out there, and then we'll see how people respond.