Howard Dean takes on new political projects

Former Gov. Howard Dean in Burlington. Photo by Anne Wallace Allen/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — Back when Howard Dean was Vermont governor, he was a regular feature at youth hockey games, concerts, and other such gathering places. Many Vermonters saw him as a sharp-tongued but likeable everyman who could be buttonholed for a conversation while in line at the deli. It was a point of state pride that he had been turned away from Mad River Glen after showing up with a snowboard.

After he competed in and then left the presidential race in 2004, Dean became more of a national than state figure and faded from the Vermont landscape. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee between 2005 and 2009, leading Democrats during President George W. Bush’s second term.

In the years since, he’s worked for Denton’s, a Washington-based law firm that bills itself as the world’s largest. He did a regular spot on CNBC for a while. He taught at Hofstra University, and for 10 years, he’s co-taught a foreign policy course at Yale University, his alma mater. He and his wife Judy, who still works as a physician in Shelburne, launched two kids — a daughter, 34, who works as a public defender in the Bronx, and a son, 33, who works in charter schools in the Philadelphia area. Recently Dean took on a position on the advisory board at Tilray, a cannabis company in British Columbia where he is receiving stock options as compensation.

And Dean recently signed on for an ambitious new project for Democrats: a data exchange aimed at enabling the party to amass the kind of voter intelligence that he said the Republicans have been using to their advantage for years.

The youthful-seeming former governor, who is 70, is confident there are plenty of experts capable of handling the data itself. He said he’s going to serve as the diplomat who helps groups to work together on a collaborative project that will strengthen them all.

In an interview with VTDigger at Dobra Tea House in Burlington, Dean shared two pots of strong black tea as he reflected on his long career.

His training as a physician, he said, helped him learn how to act decisively instead of waffling.

“In politics there is a reward for not acting,” he said. “The tendency is to push decisions off.” But in medicine, he said, “If you have a problem you fix it now rather than later, because bad things happen when you wait.”

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He also feels he has a greater respect for factual evidence than some of his peers in politics because of his early training. Studies led him to change his mind about things like the efficacy of needle exchanges or the legalization of cannabis.

“Facts drive everything,” he said. “What I hate about today’s politics: They don’t care about what facts are. They don’t care about deficits. They’re the biggest deficit spenders in the history of the world. Facts matter. If you’re trained as a scientist, facts matter. You can’t wish someone’s illness away.”

Leveraging voter data

The data exchange, a for-profit entity that will be located, legally speaking, outside the DNC to comply with campaign finance laws, will allow organizations to share their voter lists and details. It’s modeled after the GOP’s Data Trust, an organization that Dean said has enabled the Republicans to leverage data much more skillfully than their Democrat peers.

“It’s too late for everyone to…

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