Dean, a man for all seasons

By February 4, 2009Article, Atlantic Eye

GENEVA, Switzerland, Feb. 4 (UPI) — He was down to earth as always. Having just arrived from Davos, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, M.D., the chairman emeritus of the U.S. Democratic Party, spoke eloquently of his work and future. Many of us at the Democratic Expat Leadership Council dinner wondered out loud why he had not been named secretary of health and human services.

Now, Mr. President, you have the chance to correct a glaring oversight.

As governor of Vermont, Howard Dean was fiscally conservative. He balanced every budget he presented and left surpluses while lowering taxes twice upon leaving office after six two-year terms and 12 years in office from 1991 to 2003. The only Vermont governor to serve longer was Thomas Chittenden in 1778-1789 and 1790-1797. Dean was chairman of the National Governors Association from 1994 to 1995, where he also showed strong leadership. He was initially the front-runner when he ran for president in 2004.

Mostly, though, Howard Dean is an innovator — especially in healthcare.

In 1989 Vermont introduced Dr. Dynasaur, a publicly funded healthcare program. Vermont had an estimated 140,000 people under age 18. Dr. Dynasaur covered 56,000 of these who had been uninsured. After adding the coverage of this program, Vermont achieved a virtually universal healthcare for children.

At the time of its creation, Dr. Dynasaur used state funds to provide healthcare for pregnant women and children ages 6 and under who did not have health insurance — they also did not qualify for U.S. federally funded Medicaid. Co-payments were required for some medical services. In 1992, under Dean, the Dr. Dynasaur coverage was expanded to children and teens through age 17. To conform to Medicaid, coverage under other health insurance no longer precluded eligibility and co-payments were eliminated.

The primary goal was to ensure access for pregnant women and children to a full range of healthcare services with a strong emphasis on prenatal and preventive care, and to provide a system of coverage in concert with private health insurance. A secondary goal was to help working families maintain their self-sufficiency. This program complemented Vermont’s welfare reform initiative by offering health coverage to low- and middle-income families who did not receive welfare cash assistance. The result was universal health-insurance coverage for all Vermont children.

Now some will argue that Vermont is not the United States and that achieving universal healthcare there cannot be transferred to other states. This might be partly true. But the point is that Dean, who received his medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, is a man who thinks out of the box.

Dean was the first presidential candidate to recognize the immense opportunity of the Internet. In 2004 he raised $40 million using the Internet — at the time a staggering amount, and mostly from small donors. He recognized the power of small donations and of interacting with the common person — the grassroots. Dean’s campaign did particularly well at drawing repeat donations from large numbers of people dispersed over a wide range of ZIP codes — a classic example of the Internet’s reach and convenience. Millions of people used credit cards to donate to the Dean presidential campaign — something new at the time and now considered commonplace.

Dean proved again and again as chairman of the Democratic Party that he is innovative. His “50 state strategy,” which many in the Democratic Party opposed, was the prelude to President Barack Obama’s victory. In 2006, because of this strategy, Democrats won congressional seats in states, including Missouri and Montana, that they thought impossible to take — thus recapturing the House.

Dean hired folks who put the knowledge of the Internet and Web to use for the Democratic Party. Under Dean’s leadership, an enormous, well-managed and precise database was created and effectively used. Dean was the first DNC chairman to seriously fundraise with U.S. citizens overseas. This resulted in the development of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council, which rewarded him handsomely with millions in donations for the Democratic Party and presidential candidates as well.

Maybe one of Howard’s biggest faults is that he is simply too nice. Dean dislikes the pettiness and nastiness of politics. But he is a superb policy wonk and knows how to hire and work with good people to manage priorities. At the DNC there was a slew of young folks, from Carl Chidlow to Andrew Wright to Brooks Banton (who would join the Obama campaign) to Stephanie Cherkezian — just a few of the staff and all of whom are bright, talented and competent. Lest I forget — Andrew Tobias, the superb elder statesman of the DNC (in time served, not in age) who is its treasurer.

Howard Dean is the best possible pick to be secretary of health and human services.

Mr. President, Gov. Dean will serve the United Sates diligently, effectively and with loyalty.

(UPI International Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. He has advised political candidates and is a founding trustee of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council)