Howard Dean: Anti-Black and Law Breaking?
by Josh Frank
November 1, 2003
October was a rough month for Howard Dean. His Democratic challenger Rev. Al Sharpton upped his attack on the front-runner for Dean’s anti-affirmative action, pro-death penalty, pro-gun agenda. And the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch is fast making their case that Dean broke the law in Vermont by concealing Government records while in office.
In a statement released this past week, Sharpton stated that, "Howard Dean's opposition to affirmative action, his current support for the death penalty and historic support of the NRA's agenda, amounts to an anti-black agenda.” He went on to say, “that [Dean’s positions] will not sell in communities of color."
Sharpton’s criticism came quickly after he was informed Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. had planned to endorse the ex-Vermont Governor. In Sharpton’s retaliation he cited a statement Dean made in 1995 on CNN’s Late Edition, where Dean remarked that, “We ought to look at affirmative action programs based not on race, but on class." The effect of Sharpton’s words will be put to the test during the Primary elections in South Carolina, where heavily black Democratic districts will take to the polls. Sharpton claims those Primaries will be a turning point in the race for the Presidency.
But before those elections in early February, Judicial Watch may already have burst Dean’s hopes.
In a recent statement released by the organization, Judicial Watch quoted a letter that Vermont State Archivist Greg Sanford sent to the state’s Governor’s Council in 2002. In that note Sanford claimed that “ambition” is not an ample reason to block access to Government documents. He also pointed out that Vermont’s Open Record Laws (V.S.A. § 315) clearly oppose such actions. As the law itself states: “It is in the public interest to enable any person to review and criticize [the officer’s of the Government] decisions even though such examination may cause inconvenience and embarrassment.”
What is Dean covering up? Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch believes Dean is obviously hiding something. “Dean’s personal political ambitions and apparent obsession with keeping his public record secret are not consistent with Vermont law,” Fitton says “nor are they compatible with principles of transparency and accountability in government.”
Although Judicial Watch is a pronounced conservative organization, they are not partisan in their litigation. Last year the group led the effort in attempting to force the Vice President’s office to release all information they possessed on Cheney’s Energy Task Force.
So how will Sharpton’s attacks and Judicial Watch’s legal actions against Dean play out? If indeed Shapton’s comments do hit home in prominent black communities, Dean’s wide internet support may seem overtly narrow. The ex-Governor may not be the next George McGovern, as some claim, but the next Eugene McCarthy, as Dean’s campaign fails to bridge the gap between "white" Vermont and the "black" South.
And if Judicial Watch is successful in their attempts to force Vermont to release Dean’s records, journalists and critics may have a field day with the information.
In any case, progressives must question whether supporting an alleged law-breaker at this stage in the Primaries, is a good idea. Supporters of Dean must realize the more their candidate attempts to conceal his past, the harder it’s going to be for him to sell his present. America certainly does not need another administration where cover-ups and deception are commonplace. Governor Dean better prove he’s a worthy alternative to George W. Bush, or October isn’t going to be the worst month Dean has in his quest for the White House.
Josh Frank is a writer and activist living in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.