During his tenure as governor of Vermont, Howard Dean openly claimed that the legal system unfairly benefited criminal defendants over prosecutors.
In early 2001 Dean chose not to reappoint Vermontís four-term defender general, Robert Appel. During Appelís reign as defender general of Vermont, his ideology and interpretation of the law often clashed with Governor Deanís.
Back in 1999 Dean blocked Appel from accepting over $150,000 in federal grants, which was to be used to help the state represent mentally-ill defendants.
Following the incident Vermontís Rutland Herald editorialized on Deanís stonewalling of federal funds:
ďFor Dean to block a government agency from receiving federal money was unusual in itself. But Deanís openly expressed bias against criminal defendants provided a partial explanation. Dean has made no secret of his belief that the justice system gives all the breaks to defendants. Consequently, during the 1990s, stateís attorneys, police, and corrections all received budget increases vastly exceeding increases enjoyed by the defender generalís office. That meant the stateís attorneys were able to round up ever increasing numbers of criminal defendants, but the public defenders were not given comparable resources to respond.Ē
Such funds are typically used to pay for expert testimony in criminal cases. Truly, said monies are imperative for providing a fair trial for mentally disabled defendants. Appel openly commented on his frustration with Howard Deanís view of citizenís constitutional rights. Regarding Deanís belief that defendants get all the breaks Appel quarreled, "I would say it is a fundamental difference in perspective between me and my boss."
And in a July 1997 radio interview with Bob Kinzel of the Vermont News Service, Dean announced, "Iím looking to steer the [Vermont Supreme] court back towards consideration of the rights of the victims.Ē
In this same interview Dean claimed he would initiate this through expediting the judicial process, as well as by appointing state judges who were willing to undermine the Bill of Rights.
As governor he wanted to use such justices to "quickly convict guilty criminals," and added that he was ďlooking for someone who is for justice.Ē He went on to say, ďMy beef about the judicial system is that it does not emphasize truth and justice over lawyering. It emphasizes legal technicalities and rights of the defendants and all that."
The Vermont Press Bureau on July 17, 1997 quoted the reaction of Vermont Constitutional Law Professor and Attorney Michael Mello to Deanís radio quips. "Dean is just ignorant,Ē charged Mello, ďI donít think he understands what judges ought to do. He perceives the Supreme Court as being broken in some way and sees himself on a mission to fix it. That is pure, ignorant, political demagoguery. Nonsense on stilts."
Many lawyers across Vermont claim the legal system during Deanís reign was far too ďone-dimensional.Ē In the same Vermont Press Bureau article, Leighton Detora, the President of the Vermont Trial Lawyers Association was quoted as saying, "I donít think he has any regard for any process that gets in the way of what he wants to accomplish Ö Look at how he was trying to move the justices around like chess pieces there. Heís a doctor, and as such, he has all the learned responses to the legal profession -- that we are just out here, and lawyers jobs are to make things more complicated,Ē said Detora. ďIn his own arrogance, I think somehow he thinks he has a lock on truth and wisdom."
That truth and wisdom has all but derailed the Dean campaign. His internet support has turned out to be narrow and unfounded. Dean has also squandered an unprecedented amount of money on vile TV and radio ads that pushed him off balance in Iowa and New Hampshire. The Democratic Leadership Council, the insider group that really calls the shots, has shunned his bid despite his corporate tenure in Vermont. And the media has focused in on his fiery demeanor and personality quarks, mislabeling him a lefty radical, even though heís a centrist through and through.
So Dean will most likely be crushed in Michiganís upcoming primary, as well as Washingtonís, were he has been spending the last of his campaign funds.
And the Third Coast of Wisconsin may be his last stand, where if he falls, he may well hang up his campaign hat and head back home to the Green Mountain State.
But donít be too disheartened. Like his prosecution stances as governor, his platform overall has always been right of center. Despite his critiques of the John Kerryís Beltway ties, Dean himself has is really just a fiscal Republican.
Thatís right. During Deanís reign in Vermont, he was renowned for cutting state budgets and promoting rigid fiscal conservatism. And that fiscal austerity caused few Vermonters to consider Dean a friend of labor. IBM, one of Vermontís largest employers, consistently downsized their workforce as employees attempted to unionize. The manager of IBMís government relations at the plant in Essex Vermont was quoted in Business Week in August of 2001, as saying, "[Deanís] secretary of commerce would call me once a week just to see how things were going." What a friendly governor, but labor advocates claimed Dean rarely listened to their concerns.
Political science professor at the University of Vermont Garrison Nelson, also says that ď[Dean] is not a liberal. He's a pro-business, Rockefeller Republican."
Conservative pro-business individuals in Vermont especially loved Howard Deanís perplexed business agenda. As Business Week reported, Wayne Roberts who worked for the Reagan Administration thought Dean was a ďfrugal man.Ē "There is no way in heck he would tolerate a deficit," Roberts blasted.
John McClaughry, president of the conservative Vermont think tank, the Ethan Allen Institute, says "The Howard Dean you are seeing on the national scene is not the Dean that we saw around here for the last decade. He has moved sharply left.Ē Many of these critics site Deanís political ambitions as the reasons for changing his rhetoric when rallying his young supporters.
Nevertheless Dean still claims to be an old school fiscal conservative, and hails his balancing of the state budget in Vermont. On August 30th 2003, the Washington Post quoted a democrat and former Vermont state Senate president Dick McCormack as saying of Dean that, "He made us very disciplined about spending, even if we didn't really like it. I was a liberal Democrat, and I fought him a lot.Ē
Vermont is not legally bound to balance the stateís budget, but to Dean, it may as well have been.
"I'm a fiscal conservative," Dean said in early in his campaign. "I'm most proud of our fiscal stability -- I left the state in better shape than I found it Ö Capitalism is a great system.Ē
So what did Dean do for Vermont? Not as much as he takes credit for.
On Deanís watch Medicare costs in Vermont skyrocketed. Deanís endorsement of Newt Gingrichís fiscal program in the 1990s was grossly apparent. Dean time and again praised Gingrich for slashing Medicare and other social programs in order to help balance the federal budget. Dean said at the time, "The way to balance the [federal] budget is for Congress to cut Social Security, move the retirement age to 70 Ö [cut] Medicare and veterans pensions, while the states cut everything else." And Dean took that initiative. Can somebody say Robert Rubin and Clinton economics?
As the Associated Press noted on November 24th of 2003, "[Dean] did make cuts in Vermont to programs for the elderly, blind and disabled when balancing budgets Ö [And he] did cut some social programs in Vermont."
Under the guise of ďfiscal responsibility,Ē Dean also managed to cut the Aid to Needy Families with Children program, public education, and funding for public defendants.
In total governor Dean cut $6 million in state education and retirement funds for public school teachers in Vermont, as well as $7 million of state employee benefits. Dean crushed health care for the elderly with a $4 million dollar gouge, and stomped a $2 million dollar reduction in Vermont welfare programs that were earmarked for the disabled and blind in state.
Medicaid recipients also lost over $1.2 million in much needed benefits.
Dean claimed these cuts were mandatory and unavoidable because the state had a $60 million dollar deficit. All this in a state thatís population is a little over 600,000.
Vermonter Keith Rosenthal points out in an article for the International Socialist Review; during Deanís tenure, he was able to fund a $30 million for a new prison in Springfield Vermont, a $7 million for a low-interest loan program for businesses, as well as cut the stateís income tax by 8 percent which accounted for to $30 million dollars in revenue.
Many liberals in the Vermont state legislature were angered by Deanís balancing tactics. The legislators did not feel comfortable with "cutting taxes in a way that benefits the wealthiest taxpayers." And by 2002, Deanís prosecutor friendly government increased investment in state prisons by nearly 150 percent, while funds for state colleges increased by a mere 7 percent.
So what is so wrong with singing the tune of balanced budget responsibility? Certainly Bush has been off key. But when eliminating every cent of deficit is done at expense to the common good, progressives should feel queasy when confronted with Deanís conservative mantra. But then again they wonít have to be confronted with it much longer. Dean is dieing fast. Too bad these same arguments can be made against John Kerry. We need Bush out; it is just too bad the Democrats are the likely replacement.
Josh Frank is a writer living in New York. He is author of the forthcoming book, The End of the Spectrum: What the 2004 Elections Mean for American Democracy, due out in the fall of 2004 by Common Courage Press. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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