About the Author
DARREN ALLEN, former reporter for the Baltimore Sun
, who is chief of the statehouse bureau for the Rutland Herald and Times Argus.
MARK BUSHNELL, former editor and reporter at the Herald and Times Argus
, who is now a free-lance writer. Bushnell writes a weekly column for the paper on Vermont history called "Life in the Past Lane."
HAMILTON DAVIS, former Washington Bureau chief for the Providence Journal
and former managing editor of the Burlington Free Press
. Davis covered the presidential campaigns in 1968 and 1972. He is author of the book Mocking Justice.
JOHN DILLON, reporter for Vermont Public Radio and former Sunday writer for the Times Argus
and Rutland Herald
SALLY JOHNSON, a former reporter and editor at the Herald
, and the former editor of Vermont Magazine
. She has been a free-lance contributor to The New York Times
and the Boston Globe
DAVE GRAM, Associated Press reporter, Montpelier Bureau.
JON MARGOLIS, former national political reporter for the Chicago Tribun
e, who has covered presidential politics since 1968. He is author of The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964
DAVID MOATS, editorial page editor of the Herald and 2001 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his editorials on the civil unions issue. His book, Civil Wars: Gay Marriage Puts Democracy to the Test
is being published by Harcourt in February.
DIRK VAN SUSTEREN, magazine editor for the Herald and Times Argus
and former Sunday editor. He was project editor for A Vermont Century
, a book of essays and photographs on Vermont in the 20th Century.
IRENE WIELAWSKI, former reporter for the Burlington Free Press
, Providence Journal
, Los Angeles Times
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I GOT THE CALL AT home on the morning of August 14, 1991. Gov. Richard Snelling was dead. The Rutland Herald would publish an extra edition that afternoon, and I needed to get to work. For Vermonters, the shock of Snelling’s death was considerable, and it was magnified by the uncertainty we felt about his successor. The question we were asking ourselves was an obvious one, but it gained new importance in those hours of shock and grief: Who is Howard Dean? 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. When Snelling died, Howard Dean was in his fifth year as lieutenant governor, and we were at least superficially acquainted with him, but we had little notion about the scope of Dean’s ambitions or what kind of governor he would make.
Who is Howard Dean? Vermont is small enough that many Vermonters have the chance for personal encounters with their political leaders, and Howard Dean had already had a close encounter with a friend of mine. It was at a political gathering in Castleton, a small college town near the New York border, and my friend, a Congregational minister, fell unconscious from cardiac arrest. Dean, a physician, applied mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and kept my friend alive.
That was one thing we knew about Howard Dean. He was a physician who had a practice with his wife. In fact, he was seeing a patient when he learned that Snelling had died, and it was part of the lore of that historic moment that Dean finished his appointment with his patient before heading for Montpelier to become governor.
We knew also that he had come from a privileged background that included a childhood on Long Island, prep school and Yale. As a Democrat, he had risen quickly to a position of leadership in the Vermont House of Representatives, and then he ran successfully for lieutenant governor. As with most lieutenant governors, we presumed he had plans to run for governor. No one foresaw that he would claim that office so soon. Who is Howard Dean? We learned quickly that he had an off-the-cuff manner and habit of frankness that led him to say things that were insensitive or brash. Over the years, the press chided him for his insensitivity and praised him for his candor. His candor seemed to arise from a brimming self-confidence and from a doctor’s habit of giving the news straight. He did not agonize or apologize, and he relished the give-and-take with the press and the public.
Over time Dean’s political profile began to take shape. After he was sworn in as governor, he declared his intention to stick with the economic recovery plan that Gov. Snelling, a Republican, had put in place the previous winter. Vermont state government was digging out from a deficit after the recession of the early 1990s, and Dean established from the outset a reputation for fiscal austerity.
He began to focus on some favorite initiatives, such as programs for children and families and health-care reform. He promoted land conservation, which won him praise from environmentalists, and he bemoaned excessive regulation, which won him praise from business. He mounted campaigns against drunken driving and drug addiction, and he gained a reputation as tough on crime.
Dean signed his name to two landmark bills during his tenure. One of them refashioned the state’s system of education finance, eliminating disparities between revenues available from town to town. The other established civil unions, which gave gay and lesbian couples the same rights as married couples. Dean did not lead the way for either bill; the legislature passed the bills in response to rulings by the Vermont Supreme Court. But he supported both bills, and he did not back away from the controversies they created.
Over the course of 11 years in office, Dean’s ambitions as governor began to wane, and his attention began to shift to national politics. Those who followed his career began to sense that Vermont was no longer a large enough stage for him. We knew he had considered a presidential campaign in 2000, and when he announced after his election in 2002 that he would not seek re-election, we understood he had his sights on a presidential run in 2004.
It is an astonishing lesson in American politics to watch a political leader grow from a familiar local figure, someone known as a doctor, a youth-hockey coach, a governor, to a politician of national stature. Every word now spoken or written about him has a heightened importance, and the discussion of his history, personality and ideas takes place in a resounding echo chamber of intensified media scrutiny. That is because the stakes have become so high.
As that scrutiny has intensified, it seemed like a useful exercise to share with readers the perspective of the most experienced observers of the phenomenon of Howard Dean. We have gathered those observations together here. If readers in San Diego or Seattle or Tallahassee find the story of Dean’s sudden rise curious and surprising, so do those who know him, though we also have an insight into how it all came about. Even before a single vote has been cast, Howard Dean’s rise has become a remarkable story of ambition and accomplishment, of craft and luck. And it is a story worth telling now.