No Big Loss for the Left

In Vermont the prosecution never rests, or at least it didn’t during Howard Dean’s tenure. As governor, Dean openly claimed that the legal system unfairly benefited criminal defendants over prosecutors.

Dean in early 2001 chose not to reappoint Vermont’s four-term defender general Robert Appel, due to their difference in legal philosophy. During Appel’s stint as defender general of Vermont, his ideology and interpretation of the law often clashed with Governor Dean’s.

Back in 1999 Dean also 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 Vermont’s Rutland Herald editorialized on Dean’s stonewalling of federal funds:

“For Dean to block a government agency from receiving federal money was unusual in itself. But Dean’s 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, state’s attorneys, police, and corrections all received budget increases vastly exceeding increases enjoyed by the defender general’s office. That meant the state’s attorneys were able to round up ever increasing numbers of criminal defendants, but the public defenders were not given comparable resources to respond.”

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 Dean’s view of citizen’s constitutional rights, and regarding Dean’s 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, “I’m looking to steer the [Vermont Supreme] court back towards consideration of the rights of the victims.”

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, Dean wanted to use such justices to “quickly convict guilty criminals,” and added that he was “looking for someone who is for justice.” He went on to say, “My 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 Dean’s radio quips. “Dean is just ignorant,” charged Mello, “I don’t 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 under governor Dean was far too “one-dimensional.” In the same Vermont Press Bureau article, Leighton Detora, the President of the Vermont Trial Lawyers Association was quoted as saying, “I don’t think he has any regard for any process that gets in the way of what he wants to accomplish Look at how he was trying to move the justices around like chess pieces there. He’s 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,” said Detora. “In his own arrogance, I think somehow he thinks he has a lock on truth and wisdom.”

That truth and wisdom has all but derailed Dean’s campaign. His internet support has turned out to be narrow and unfounded. Dean’s team also squandered an unprecedented amount of money on vile TV and radio ads which fattened the pockets of his ex-campaign manager Joe Trippi. It was blatant conflict of interest as Trippi’s media firm cashed in on almost every ad produced for the Dean campaign. And his horrid advertisements that aired in Iowa and New Hampshire shoved his campaign right off the political tight-rope it had walked for so many months. It also didn’t help that the Democratic Leadership Council, the insiders that really call the shots in the early primaries, shunned Dean’s bid for the White House despite his corporate tenure in Vermont. The whole while the mainstream media focused its energy on Dean’s fiery demeanor and personality quarks, mislabeling him a lefty radical and over playing his screaming speech following his Iowa fall. But Dean is not progressive, he has always been a measly centrist.

So Dean’s failures early on cost him vital traction in Washington and Michigan, where he had high hopes but was crushed during their February 7th primaries. Governor Dean’s campaign has virtually ignored all other primaries since New Hampshire, coming in a distant fourth in both of the February 11th primaries in Virginia and Tennessee, where John Kerry continued along his brutal rampage of garnering delegates. However, Dean is putting all his remaining energy in capturing the upcoming showdown in Wisconsin on the 17th. Indeed Wisconsin may be Dean’s last stand, where he will hang up his campaign hat and head back home to the Green Mountain State if he’s not victorious.

But don’t be too disheartened. Like his prosecution stances as governor, Dean’s platform overall has always been right of center. Despite his critiques John Kerry’s Beltway ties, Dean himself is not much more than a fiscal Republican.

That’s right. During Dean’s rule in Vermont, he was renowned for cutting state budgets and promoting rigid economic conservatism. And that fiscal austerity caused few Vermonters to consider Dean a friend of labor. IBM, one of Vermont’s largest employers, consistently downsized their workforce as employees attempted to unionize. The manager of IBM’s government relations at the plant in Essex Vermont was quoted in Business Week in August of 2001, as saying, “[Dean’s] 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 “[Dean] is not a liberal. He’s a pro-business, Rockefeller Republican.”

Conservative pro-business individuals in Vermont especially loved Howard Dean’s perplexed business agenda. As Business Week reported, Wayne Roberts who worked for the Reagan Administration thought Dean was a “frugal man.” “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.” Many of these critics site Dean’s political ambitions as the reasons for changing his rhetoric when rallying his young supporters along the campaign trail.

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.”

Vermont is not legally bound to balance the state’s budget, but for Dean, it may as well have been.

“I’m a fiscal conservative,” Dean said in early in the primaries. “I’m most proud of our fiscal stability — I left the state in better shape than I found it Capitalism is a great system.”

So what did Dean do for Vermont? Not as much as he takes credit for.

On Dean’s watch Medicare costs in Vermont skyrocketed. Dean’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich’s economic 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 [cut] Medicare and veterans pensions, while the states cut everything else.” And Dean took that initiative.

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 [And he] did cut some social programs in Vermont.”

Under the guise of “fiscal responsibility,” Dean also managed to cut the Aid to Needy Families with Children program, public education, and as noted, 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 where the population is a little over 600,000.

Vermonter Keith Rosenthal points out in an article for the International Socialist Review last fall; during Dean’s 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 state’s income tax by 8 percent which accounted for to $30 million dollars in revenue.

Many liberals in the Vermont state legislature were angered by Dean’s balancing tactics. The legislators did not feel comfortable with “cutting taxes in a way that benefits the wealthiest taxpayers.” And by 2002, Dean’s prosecutor friendly government increased investments in state prisons by nearly 150 percent, while funds for state colleges grew by a mere 7 percent.

So what is so wrong with humming the tune of balanced budget responsibility? Certainly President Bush has been singing in the wrong octave for the last three years. But when eliminating every cent of deficit is done at expense to the common good, progressives should feel queasy when confronted with Dean’s conservative mantra. But then again they won’t have to be faced with such rhetoric too much longer. Dean is dieing fast. Too bad these same arguments can be made against botox injected John Kerry, who may soon lose face if the new infidelity claims turn out to be true. Sure we need Bush out; it is just unfortunate the Democrats are the likely replacement.

JOSH FRANK can be reached at:


JOSHUA FRANK is the managing editor of CounterPunch. He is the author of the new book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, published by Haymarket Books. He can be reached at You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank.