On Aug. 14, 1991, Vermont Gov. Richard Snelling died and was replaced by his mostly unknown lieutenant governor. The state's press corps could only wonder, "Who is Howard Dean?" writes David Moats, the editorial page editor of the Rutland Herald, in the introduction to Howard Dean: A Citizen's Guide to the Man Who Would Be President. The book is written by "a team of reporters for Vermont's Rutland Herald & Times-Argus" who purport to know Dean best. Moats writes, "It took the next decade for those of us in the press, and our readership, to gain an understanding of the energetic, ambitious politician who was sworn into office that summer afternoon in 1991."
Unfortunately for the nation, the Vermont press corps can't give us 10 years to gain an understanding of Howard Dean. Instead, they've given us 245 pages. The book sketches a pretty positive portrait, but fair or not, the juicy parts tend to be Dean's lesser-known lowlights:
Like father, unlike son: After being rejected for World War II service "on medical grounds," Dean's father volunteers for a civilian job helping the Allied cause in North Africa. (When Dean bypassed Vietnam under similar circumstances, he went skiing.)
Strange bedfellows: Brother Jim Dean (who now works for the campaign) describes his brother's 1971 graduation from Yale: "We get to Howard's room, and he isn't there, but there are a bunch of people apparently living there who aren't Yale students but are kind of street people with tattoos and all."
Governor who? On the day he took office, "Dean was considered a relatively minor figure, almost a lightweight," writes Darren Allen, chief of the Vermont Press Bureau. "Democratic Lt. Gov. Howard Dean outstripped other Vermont politicians for anonymity," the Associated Press had reported that morning. "Dean has been elected to statewide office three times, but 39 percent of those questioned had no opinion of him or had not heard of him."
Lights out: In one of Dean's first major decisions as governor, he sided with power companies in favor of a 25-year contract to purchase electricity from Quebec. Environment groups opposed the project because of Hydro-Quebec's damming of state rivers; human-rights groups worried about the fate of the Cree Indians, whose land would be flooded; and consumer groups worried whether the plan would even save Vermont money. The consumer groups, at least, turned out to be right: "In the late 1990s, Vermont's two biggest power companies nearly became insolvent as they struggled to pay what turned out to be high costs for Quebec power." Vermont consumers and businesses received "steep rate increases."
Not-so-green Dean: As governor, Dean turned out to be pro-conservation but anti-regulation, a position that some environmentalists find hard to reconcile. The state bought and preserved more than 470,000 acres of wild land, but Dean's administration also gutted or ignored Vermont's environmental regulations in order to land new business development. Upon retirement, the executive officer of Vermont's Water Resources Board charged Dean's administration with underfunding the state's Agency of Natural Resources and with politicizing environmental science: "ANR has not been given the resources to adequately do its job and too often the scientifically sound recommendations by ANR technical staff are overruled in final permit decisions by political appointees." (Dean's budget chief admits in the book that some agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, were underfunded: "I agree that they didn't have enough money to do what they were authorized to do.")
In general, Dean showed a disdain for Vermont's legal and regulatory processes in favor of ad hoc deal-making and what he called "common sense" and "reason." Dean's critics say he abandoned a 20-year approach of appointing locally respected officials to environmental commissions. Instead, he "seems to have looked to people who wouldn't oppose his philosophy, who wouldn't demand tiresome scientific data and who wouldn't mind working for a governor who might inject himself in cases," writes Hamilton E. Davis, former managing editor of the Burlington Free Press. Some of Dean's defenders argue that he "never really understood the damage he was doing to the regulatory system."
Like governor, like candidate: Dean "never quite grasped the idea that he was something other than a normal guy," Davis writes. "He was smarter than most, of course, and with an unusual job, but otherwise he seems to have considered himself an ordinary guy who could say pretty much whatever crossed his mind without getting too wrought up over it."
More love from fellow Democrats: The book relies in many places on All Politics Is Personal, a memoir by Ralph Wright, the Democratic speaker of the Vermont House during much of Dean's political life in the state. "I guess this was the one thing I never could understand about Howard Dean. He always seemed so ready to abandon his cause at the first sign of defeat," Wright complains. "Maybe it was his medical training that toughened him to the certain failures that awaited us all. Maybe it was an unwillingness to have any cause at all, at least any cause for which he was willing to risk his political skin. … It wasn't just causes he was willing to abandon, he was capable of acting the same with people."
Safety second: Dean, at a press conference explaining why he wanted Vermont's Agency of Transportation to stop removing some steep rock walls along a section of the interstate that the agency had deemed too dangerous: "I got sick and tired of looking at [the construction] on my way back and forth between Montpelier and Burlington. … I'm not a safety expert. … If someone gets killed, then it's one someone who didn't have to die. It's very hard to second-guess this. But I react the way a Vermonter has to, to this. I don't like it."
Davis, the former Burlington Free Press managing editor, cites the incident as a good example of Dean's managerial style, "which was to give the agency secretaries something close to full autonomy, but then to hold them accountable publicly."
Dean's Kentucky campaign begins poorly: Letters received by Dean after he signed Vermont's civil-unions bill: "I was really sorry to read where you have allowed the passage of a bill recognizing queers to marry," wrote someone from Kentucky, "who vowed never to vacation in Vermont again." "I have been a Democrat all my life, but now that the Democrats are turning into queers, I am switching to the Republican Party. I hope you and all your queer buddies rot in hell."
Another said, "Dean Is a Faggot Lover. All Homosexuals, Go to Vermont, Dean Loves You. All Normal People, Stay Away From Vermont. A State Full Of Perverts—Run By Perverts. Boycott Fag Run Vermont." On one fund-raising walk after the bill-signing, an elderly woman walked up to Dean and said, "You fucking, queer-loving son of a bitch."