My interview with Howard Dean

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

HowarddeancasualA few minutes ago, I had an opportunity to interview the chairman of the Democratic Party, Governor Howard Dean. He'll be in Portland on Monday night, headlining a grassroots fundraiser that will support the 50-State Strategy.

RSVP and buy your tickets online here. $50 general admission, $25 students.

It was a short interview, but I had a chance to ask all of my top questions - and hopefully a few that are interesting to you. We talked about the 50-State Strategy, Gordon Smith, Greg Walden, Al Gore, Vote-by-Mail, and the presidential race.

But first, Doctor Dean had to give me a little personal advice about my family's impending arrival - "Be sure to get plenty of sleep, because when that baby comes, you're not getting any for a while".

That was a bit surreal, so I moved quickly to the politics. I didn't get a chance to record it, so these answers are paraphrased from my notes:

Q: Why are you coming to Oregon on Monday?

Dean: Oregon is a state that is the quintessential grassroots state - because of vote-by-mail. We already have 159 people in our neighbor-to-neighbor leadership program. In that program, which we'll kick off on November 3rd with house parties across the country, people agree to talk three times to 25 neighbors, and recruit more leaders into the program. That's how we'll talk to every single American that has a remote possibility of voting for the Democrats.

Q: Obviously, the story of the year in Oregon is Senator Gordon Smith and the campaign to defeat him. As Smith has been working to remake his image, the state party has been doing a great job on the truth squad at StopGordonSmith.com. From your perspective, why is this seat a top priority nationally in 2008?

Dean: This is a top priority for the Democrats. Gordon Smith, regardless of how he votes on specific issues, has one crucial vote. He supports Senator Mitch McConnell as the Minority Leader for the Republicans. Senator McConnell is killing every Democratic initiative.

On Iraq, on health care, on everything, Mitch McConnell and Gordon Smith are standing in the way. No matter what he says about it, Gordon Smith is standing in the way of us getting out of Iraq - through his support for Republicans in Washington D.C.

Q: I'd like to talk about your run-everywhere, contest-every-seat theory. In 2006, in Oregon's 2nd CD, Congressman Greg Walden easily won re-election with 65% of the vote. Some argue that may be as good as it gets for Democrats in that district. Why does it make sense to continue to contest it - and spend arguably scarce resources on campaigns that seem to be sure losers?

Dean: There are two things we need to do in that district. We have to communicate Greg Walden's record. I'm guessing that the majority of people in that district do not agree with Greg Walden's attack on the children's health care program. If more people knew about his record, they wouldn't be as enthusiastic about him.

We also need to build for the long term. It's not about running in every office, it's about running where there can be good wins. In Eastern Oregon, we need to run Democrats for school boards, for county commissions, for state legislative seats. Those are easier to pick up, because there can be more personal contact with voters, and so they're easier to win.

Q: So maybe we shouldn't be running in the 90/10 districts. How do you make the determination about where to run?

Dean: You do spend time in the 90/10 districts. Because when you get 'em to 80/20, that's 10% more people voting for Democrats. But folks in Oregon can make the decision for themselves about where to run. Our job at the national party is to make sure they've got the capacity to run.

Q: In Oregon, we vote by mail. The academic studies vary, but most Democrats who work campaigns here believe that it pushes turnout among working class voters up by about 10% - because those are the folks that can't take time off to vote, they're working double-shifts, etc. Do you support vote-by-mail nationally to push turnout up?

[On the jump, his answer on vote-by-mail, the presidential race, and Al Gore's Nobel Prize...]

Dean: I vigorously support vote-by-mail. Oregon is always in the top five in turnout. Vote-by-mail is a terrific way to get people to vote. Look, Republicans want less people to vote. Democrats want more people to vote. This is a Democratic country, and the more votes that are cast, the better it is for America.

Q: I know you won't endorse any particular candidate, but tell me what you think about the Democratic presidential candidates, and what you think abot the Republican field?

Dean: I'm very happy about our candidates. Our field looks like the rest of America, especially if you're under 30 - different races, different ethnicities. Their field looks like the power structure of the 1950s, and they talk like it's the 1850s. The unspoken difference is pretty clear.

And of course, the differences on Iraq, on health care, on the environment -- our candidates are so much more in tune with where the country is.

Q: Yeah, it's hard to believe. Four years ago, much less 30 years ago, we wouldn't have imagined that out of our top four candidates there would be an African-American, a Latino, and a women.

Dean: It's extraordinary. That's the future of America. The Republicans are afraid of the future. They wouldn't participate in the Latino debate, they wouldn't participate in the Tavis Smiley debate, they didn't even want to participate in the YouTube debate until they got shamed into it. The Republicans are not a party that's comfortable with the future of America.

Q: Let's talk about Al Gore, his Nobel Prize, the Inconvenient Truth. What does this mean for addressing global warming as an issue?

Dean: Al Gore is an extraordinary person. I can't think of anybody recently who has taken on a major issue and put it on the forefront of public policy around the world. He well-deserves the Nobel Prize for doing that. And that's a huge difference between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats have embraced the fight against global warming. And the Republicans are having to grudgingly admit that it might exist. They're simply not suited to leading American into the future.

....

And my ten minutes were up. I'm looking forward to seeing Governor Dean on Monday night. I hope you'll be there.

  • LT (unverified)
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    It's not about running in every office, it's about running where there can be good wins. In Eastern Oregon, we need to run Democrats for school boards, for county commissions, for state legislative seats. Those are easier to pick up, because there can be more personal contact with voters, and so they're easier to win.

    Q: So maybe we shouldn't be running in the 90/10 districts. How do you make the determination about where to run?

    Dean: You do spend time in the 90/10 districts. Because when you get 'em to 80/20, that's 10% more people voting for Democrats. But folks in Oregon can make the decision for themselves about where to run. Our job at the national party is to make sure they've got the capacity to run.

    Thank you Chair/ Gov./ Dr. Dean!

    OK, all you "political professionals" who call yourselves Democrats. You need to choose. Do you support Dean's campaign philosophy, or do you support the idea that "political professionals" have all the answers and volunteers are supposed to take orders because volunteers couldn't possibly have political wisdom and experience? The latter is the 1996 "money is all that matters and only professionals know how the game is played" attitude which many believe infected Oregon politics until the advent of the Bus Project and then the advent of Howard Dean, first as an inspiring candidate for president and then as an inspiring DNC chair. We may never know how many experienced volunteers dropped out of politics in disgust near the turn of the century and only returned due to BUS/ Dean inspiration.

    If you are of the persuasion that somehow (magic preadsheet? ) the "professional" thing to say about legislative elections is "we have limited resources, therefore we must target" and that means ignoring any district with a "lousy R to D ratio", do you belong to the party of Howard Dean or merely to the party of "political professionals"? If the ruling factor in elections is the "R to D" ratio, does that mean candidate quality, organization, knowing the district, motivated volunteer base are not factors in legislative elections? If so, how does that square with what Dr. Dean said?

    Yes, there was a legislative majority in the 2007 session: 31-29. There were 2 races in "lousy R to D ratio districts"---House Dist. 24 and 59 --where the Democrat came within a couple hundred votes of winning. There were other races where "impossible " candidates did better than expected. Why was that? How much support (either FP or DPO) did those candidates get? How much of it was mobilized local volunteers, quality candidates knowing the district they lived in better than anyone in some central office somewhere?

    Howard Dean is one of the reasons I am still a Democrat rather than being NAV. But if the people on a payroll campaigning for Democrats (that wording to avoid the debate of where FP fits into Democratic strategy) are going to tell us that our local districts have no chance of getting money because we live in a "lousy R to D ratio" district, or that the candidates had darned well better show they can raise "seed money" (the amounts I heard tossed around in 2006 turned out to be much larger than either Peralta or Gillbertson listed on their April 2006 C&Es, making me wonder where those amounts came from--party officials or staff?), then why should those of us who knocked ourselves out running for such ignored candidates in 2006 get involved in 2008 legislative campaigns? Especially when races for higher office could be very interesting in 2008? Many of those "ignored" legislative races had election margins a lot less than 90/10--like the one in my district which knocked the "popular" incumbent down to a victory margin equal to half the number of NAV registered in our district.

    If you look at the dictionary definitions of democracy and democratic, the definitions talk of "government by the people" and "social equality". NOT the same as "political professionals know all, so don't argue with them".

    Howard Dean wrote a book which inspired many people. It is titled YOU HAVE THE POWER, and one of the statements he makes is "if you are looking for political leadership, look in the mirror".
    On P. 158 of the hardback I own (given to me by a friend I met back on the 1992 Clinton campaign who had bought it in a "red state" bookstore and loved buying it there as well as reading it), the first sentence is,

    "Without the involvement and committment of people at the ground level, we don't really have a party".

    The bottom line is this: The OREGON Democratic Party is the statewide party. It is made up of people who may attend local county party meetings and be involved in local campaigns but have neither $50 to spend even to see a political hero in person nor the ability to attend a Monday night event if they don't live in Portland.

    There has been a lot of discussion of the above topics here on Blue Oregon in the past. I hope that those who are able to attend the fundraiser will convey the message to DNC chair Dean that he has lots of fans who love his book and his work with the DNC.

    I hope his visit (and reading his book for those who have not yet read it) will spur a lot of conversations and soul searching about whether "we've always done it that way" is really the best model for 2008 elections at all levels.

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    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview. My reaction to Dean is similar to LT's except that for me it's a case of Dean being the single greatest inticement for me to switch from NAV to Dem, although I remain NAV. I am nevertheless a proud Deaniac.

    One small quibble with the post... In Dean's answer to the vote-by-mail question I suspect that he meant "democratic" rather than "Democratic". It makes more sense that way from the context of what he said too.

    The Republicans are not a party that's comfortable with the future of America.

    I LOVE that quote. It is a frame which Dems ought to very seriously considering using much, much more often and forcefully. Put it into context with examples, just as Dean did, and I am positive that it would resonate strongly with a huge swath of America.

  • Marc Siegel (unverified)
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    We are very excited about our neighbor-to-neighbor leadership program and appreciative of Governor Dean's grassroots leadership. The n to n troops are growing every day, and they will keep Oregon Blue.

    To be a part of this movement email [email protected]

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    Thanks for posting the interview, Kari.

    Governor Dean certainly has had a huge effect on my political involvement. I don't think the Democratic party would be where it is today without him, and I certainly wouldn't be involved at the level I am.

    The 50-state/36-county strategy is the way to go. I hope more people will sign up for the neighbor-to-neighbor program. It's all about taking back the power.

    A lot of people sit around and complain (not that I'm not guilty of that myself), but it's going out and doing things that count. For me, the challenge is how to inspire folks to take the next step, get up from the keyboard, and go talk to their neighbors.

  • Brent (unverified)
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    The neighbor-to-neighbor program is going to be key in counteracting the hundreds of millions Republicans are going to sink into the 2008 election. Nothing beats face to face contact for getting out the vote and reminding people that together, we can move Oregon and America forward.

    The DPO is busy recruiting neighborhood leaders- just send a quick email to [email protected] to get involved.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Jenny, great comment. But in answer to :

    " For me, the challenge is how to inspire folks to take the next step, get up from the keyboard, and go talk to their neighbors.", the conversation among people at your level of political involvement should be about the peole who did go out and talk to their neighbors and campaign vigorously in 2006 but thought those at higher levels of politics didn't care about them unless they lived in "target" districts.

    Seems to me part of the Dean message is this paragrah:

    Dean: You do spend time in the 90/10 districts. Because when you get 'em to 80/20, that's 10% more people voting for Democrats. But folks in Oregon can make the decision for themselves about where to run. Our job at the national party is to make sure they've got the capacity to run. << The job of the state party should be to make sure candidates have the capacity to run in nontraditional areas. If there aren't conversations going on at your level of politics about the lessons of the Peralta and Gilbertson campaigns (and whether there should be more serious support for candidates like that and not just a thank you dinner after it is all over), then somehow the Dean message is not filtering down.

    And if that means looking at all aspects of Democratic campaigns and talking to people who worked on campaigns before the advent of caucus campaign arms (I think the Sec. of State website lists the formation of FP with a 1993 date) so be it. There ARE those of us who worked on legislative campaigns back in those days, and some of us actually think we elected better legislators back then.

    The question of whether organizations like FP conflict with the fundamental Dean message should be discussed openly at the highest levels now. Maybe even in hallway conversations at the Dean event.

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    One small quibble with the post... In Dean's answer to the vote-by-mail question I suspect that he meant "democratic" rather than "Democratic". It makes more sense that way from the context of what he said too.

    Hmmm.... My paraphrase there may be missing a piece. As I was chatting with him, I took it to mean, "When more people vote, Democrats win" -- but then, you're right, he could have meant it the other way too.

  • paul g. (unverified)
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    Argh. I hate this stuff:

    Dean: Oregon is a state that is the quintessential grassroots state - because of vote-by-mail.

    Fact: Oregon was a grassroots state with high community involvement prior to voting by mail. Fact: it is one after voting by mail.

    Oregon's civic engagement has a lot more to do with its local political culture and demographic and income profile than voting by mail.

    Kari: Q: In Oregon, we vote by mail. The academic studies vary, but most Democrats who work campaigns here believe that it pushes turnout among working class voters up by about 10% - because those are the folks that can't take time off to vote, they're working double-shifts, etc. Do you support vote-by-mail nationally to push turnout up?

    A loaded question, because the kicker presumes something that has not been demonstrated. But once again, if Kari wants to convince me, he'd look at working class voting prior to voting by mail and working class voting after voting by mail. Michael McDonald has done precisely that--working class voting turnout as a proportion of total turnout is no higher in Oregon than in other states.

    Kari, I know voting by mail makes things easier for GOTV efforts, may save campaigns money, and can (fully VBM) save administrators money. But let's sell it on the facts, OK?

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    Thus the qualifier... The academic studies vary, but most Democrats who work campaigns here believe...

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    Please. Saying the "academic studies vary" is using weasel words. find me the academic study that DOES show an increase in working class turnout!

    (Seriously, i have seen some very new data indicating that there are real turnout effects, from that Colorado work we talked about. We'll argue about in next time, maybe at that new tavern?)

    On to more interesting things... why didn't you ask him about Merkley/Novick? All we need is another dustup!

  • Matthew Sutton (unverified)
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    Someone should ask him about this poll, 50% of over 9,000 people polled say they would never never never never never never never never... vote for Hillary Clinton.

    <hr/>

    Zogby Poll: Half Say They Would Never Vote for Hillary Clinton for President

    Other top tier candidates in both parties win more acceptance; Richardson & Huckabee favored most

    While she is winning wide support in nationwide samples among Democrats in the race for their party’s presidential nomination, half of likely voters nationwide said they would never vote for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, a new Zogby Interactive poll shows.

    The online survey of 9,718 likely voters nationwide showed that 50% said Clinton would never get their presidential vote. This is up from 46% who said they could never vote for Clinton in a Zogby International telephone survey conducted in early March. Older voters are most resistant to Clinton – 59% of those age 65 and older said they would never vote for the New York senator, but she is much more acceptable to younger voters: 42% of those age 18–29 said they would never vote for Clinton for President.

    so let's be smart people and nominate Senator Barack Obama.

  • LT (unverified)
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    So let's be smart, people and admit that it is 2007 and we have plenty of time to watch the candidates and decide. I like just about all of them at the moment.

  • Matthew Sutton (unverified)
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    LT, did you see the LA Times article from earlier this week? The corruption in the fundraising by one of the candidates has reached the disgusting point. I think the choices are real clear right now. Either you want change, or you want politics as usual with all that entails.

  • Pavel Goberman (unverified)
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    Matthew Sutton, bravo, you are right: therefore I'm running. Howard Dean and Democratic Party are talking too about that they are for working people and poor. Talking talking and talking. But in real life: raised salaries to high pay government employees, but not to poor.

    [Repeated identical comment removed. - editor.]

    Pavel Goberman - Candidate (D, but honest) for US Senator www.getenergized.com/vote.html

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    Paul G., I'm not saying you're wrong, but the question isn't whether working class voters vote more frequently in Oregon than other states, it's whether they vote more frequently after vote-by-mail than before.

    Maybe there're some dots you didn't quite connect, i.e. a time series of polling on proportion of working class people who vote that shows Oregon comparable to other states both before and after, from which we can infer that VBM didn't change much, or if it did, something else changed in other places.

    Of course, it would also be interesting to know how working class is being defined and if it is consistent -- non-professional and managerial jobs? Or low wage and lower-middle income families?

    Also, for curiosity, how much variance is there among states in such statistics. Since getting into public health (epidemiology & biostatistics) I've been quite astonished at the degree of state & regional differences in some health and disease distributions that get flattened out by national aggregrate mean figures.

  • paul g. (unverified)
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    Chris,

    Yes, the time series analysis has been done. But you're right, that's exactly the analysis to be done.

    The basic problem with inferring much effect in Oregon is that we were already had such a high level of participation. The other problem is that, of all the things that affect participation, the costs of voting are way, way down on the list. The estimated effect of vote by mail is not trivial--generally estimated between 2 and 5%--but that's about it. It's not going to turn Mississippi into Oregon.

    -- Kari, what did you think of the profile of Dean in today's Times. Fair?

  • LT (unverified)
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    Matthew, I have long been an advocate for campaign finance reform. You said "LT, did you see the LA Times article from earlier this week? The corruption in the fundraising by one of the candidates has reached the disgusting point. I think the choices are real clear right now. Either you want change, or you want politics as usual with all that entails. "

    <h2>And I list Hillary as a choice only below about 5 of the male candidates (meaning that I think it is still early enough not to have to jump on a bandwagon this year). There is nothing I would like more than to crack down on such gimmicks as bundling and saying the candidate who has raised the most money is the leading candidate.</h2>

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