Former presidential candidate Howard Dean visited Portland Wednesday to support Oregon Democrats as part of his effort to revolutionize the Democratic Party.
Dean’s appearance at the Montgomery Park Building in Northwest Portland marked the close race between incumbent Governor Ted Kulongoski and his main challenger, Republican Ron Saxton. While a big race for the state, Oregon has not been considered as politically important in many races as other states, like Iowa.
Dean, former governor of Vermont, one-time presidential candidate and current Democratic National Chairman, showed his strong support for Kulongoski’s reelection and Kulongoski’s efforts as Governor over the last four years. He said Kulongoski has done well at standing up against abortion restrictions, the war in Iraq and took a shot at Republicans, calling them awful.
”You have one of the greatest Democratic parties. You’ve got a great governor – keep him,” Dean said. “The last thing that Oregon needs is a George Bush clone governor.”
Kulongoski spoke, stressing his desire to keep education a priority. He said that Republicans have continued to cut taxes for the wealthy, causing the working class to suffer.
”The Democrats have woken up – we are motivated,” Kulongoski said. “This party, which has always stood for the working people, has woken up.”
Dean said special elections in other states for government positions have turned out well for Democrats.
”We will reach out everywhere. We’re already winning elections,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that the country is ready to be taken back by ordinary people.”
Dean has caused friction with some of his new policies. He was elected to the office of chairman in February 2005, and since has changed the way Democrats connect with and support each other. He has been stopping in and supporting candidates in states that are frequently ignored.
His “50-state strategy” is focused less on big wins in important states, and more on keeping Democrats organized across the country.
This system works by hiring local activists in every state, who recruit more activists in an expanding chain of command. Some disagree with this policy, stating that big wins in important states are the key to overturning the Republicans.
This way of doing things, though, is in keeping with Dean’s grassroots style of campaigning. In the 2004 presidential race, as the underdog candidate, his support was a network of enthusiastic, ordinary people rather than big corporate sponsors.
After losing the Democratic primary to John Kerry, Dean went on to endorse Kerry. He also founded Democracy for America (DFA), now run by his brother, Jim Dean. Following in the footsteps of Dean’s campaign, DFA helps unite people interested in progressive government. They endorsed current Portland Mayor Tom Potter, who followed Dean’s campaign strategy.
Mike Brunken, a member of the Oregon College Democrats who drove up from Eugene to the rally, said he is impressed by Dean’s “50-state strategy.”
”He did some pretty revolutionary stuff, in terms of using the internet,” Brunken said. “But I have some skepticism about wasting funds in red states.”
Senator Ron Wyden, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, Congressman David Wu, State Superintendent Susan Castillo, Senator Margaret Carter and Oregon Treasurer Randall Edwards all spoke at the event in addition to Kulongoski and Dean.
After graduating Yale University, Dean received a pre-med degree from Columbia. He went on to become a doctor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He moved to Vermont and married. Though involved with politics, he did not stop practicing medicine until 1991.
Dean was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 1983. When Dean was lieutenant governor in Vermont in 1991, the governor died in office. Dean took over, finished the term, and was elected for an additional five two-year terms.
Vermont was deep in debt when he gained office as governor, and he passed a bill requiring the state to have a balanced budget. By the time he left, most of the debt had been paid off. While in office he reformed the health care system, focusing on universal care for children.
Some have considered Dean the outsider in many aspects of his political career: his accidental governorship of Vermont, his campaign style and his personality. He was more outspoken than his 2004 competitors, and once ended up screaming enthusiastically to his supporters in a red-faced rant. That incident, the infamous “Dean Scream,” caused negative publicity that may have helped hasten the end of his candidacy.