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Former Gov. Howard Dean On Ranked Choice Voting, Biden, COVID And Endorsing Mayor Weinberger

Former Gov. Howard Dean
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Former Gov. Howard Dean

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is endorsing Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who is seeking a fourth term. Dean, a Democrat like Weinberger, served as governor from 1991 to 2003. The field also includes Progressive City Council President Max Tracy and Independent Councilor Ali Dieng. Dean says Weinberger has earned another three-year term.

Dean spoke about his endorsement, ranked choice voting, COVID, the early days of the Biden administration, and the Trump legacy.

Miro’s probably been the most effective mayor in terms of developing infrastructure in my lifetime in Burlington, and he does what he says he's going to do, and there's nothing more valuable than a politician who does what they say they're going to do. He's rebuilt the bike path, he saved the city from bankruptcy, save the airport from bankruptcy. I mean, he's just cleaned up a huge mess he inherited, and we're still moving forward. So there's no reason not to vote for him again.

What do you say to critics of Mayor Weinberger who say it's just been too long, time for a new voice? You know, it's just too many years.

Well, that alone is not enough to get rid of somebody. If those years have been good years and his have, then you should reelect him. You know, I'm always interested in new blood. But in this case, Miro’s got a track record, he's still got a bunch of projects that have to be done. I particularly like his emphasis on affordable housing. And you know, some of the other folks in the race are not so interested in affordable housing, and I think without affordable housing, Burlington is gonna die. So I think this is the right guy for the job.

Given the fact that you are endorsing in the race, and as we know, Town Meeting Day is coming up in March, should that be seen as a sign that he's maybe in trouble in his reelection bid here?

I don't think so. I endorse all kinds of people. I endorsed a candidate for lieutenant governor, who then went on to win never having to run a race before.

Molly Gray.

Yeah. I just try to pick who I think is the best candidate. I endorsed David Zuckerman for governor, I thought he'd be… I mean, he lost by a lot. But I think he was offering some fresh policy items that had to be addressed in Vermont that haven't been. So I just think you look at look at who's running and you make your choice. And if you feel strongly about your choice, then you can make an endorsement. And I did.

You favor a ranked choice voting reimplementation in Burlington. How come?

I think it's fairest way to vote. Everybody has a say, there's no such thing as a group of people who are disenfranchised by an election because you get to make a choice. I used it once when I was a resident, and the guy who ended up winning turned out not to be such a great mayor. But I felt pretty good about the election, because even though he wasn't my first choice, I got a choice. That's the first thing. The second thing is I think campaigns are much more civil when you do rank choice voting.

If you know that you're going to need somebody ‘ssecond or third place vote, then you don't trash them on the campaign trail, because you know, their supporters are going to resent that. And I think we could use a little civility. I think it moves people towards cooperating with each other, and moves people away from attacking the daylights out of each other because that becomes a toxic election ploy. And I'd like to see a lot less toxicity in American politics.

Is this something that can work beyond just the city of Burlington?

Oh yeah. I think it should. I think we ought to have rank choice voting for every election in the country. It also eliminates the problem of the supposed candidate who can't win. You still get to vote for who you think is the best candidate. So you vote for somebody who nobody's ever heard of, because you really like them. Andrew Yang would be an example of this in the presidential race. Andrew Yang wasn't going to win, because we adopted RCV. But Andrew Yang would have had probably more to say and lasted longer. If people had been able to use ranked choice voting, they would have voted number one for him, and then their second or third choices would have gone on to be the nominee.

So it's a complicated system but it's easy to understand, once you understand that your vote counts, no matter what you who you want, because you can rank your candidates in order of your preference. And that all goes into a computer and then and the most popular candidate ends up winning. Otherwise, you have somebody winning with 26% of the vote, which is ridiculous, which actually happened in a number of races this year around the country.

Mayor Weinberger doesn't do a lot of vetoes, but he did veto a rank choice measure over the summer. Have you expressed your views to him on this issue?

Yeah, first of all, he knows I like it. Second of all, it his veto is a little complicated, even though I'm on the opposite side of him on that particular issue. He did veto that because it was dropped on him at the last minute. And it would have cost $50,000 to put it on the ballot. So I understand what he did why he did it. Probably my side didn't handle it as well as they could have. But I still think ranked choice voting is important. And I think we should have it throughout the country.

What do you make of the early days of the Biden administration, so far, his cabinet makeup, what he's done with executive orders?

I think it's the strongest start that I've seen for a Democratic president a long, long time and I’m thrilled. He wasn't necessarily my candidate, I didn't really have a candidate. But I'm very pleased because we've had four years of not just the most corrupt president in United States history, but the most incompetent. And these guys are all competent, and gals, it is the most diverse cabinet, both in terms of gender and race, of any cabinet that has ever been formed in the United States. And I think every single person that he's named is a qualified, competent person. And I'm very pleased about that.

Now, the Democrats have control of both houses of the legislature, but it's by a whisker. How do you think they can get things through, given the fact that they in many cases will need to sway some Republicans, especially on the Senate side to come over?

Well, I mean, I think there's that depends on the Republicans more than it does the Democrats. The problem is, the Republicans have been the candidates of negativism and obstructionism. They really haven't served the country well for the last 30 years, I would say. I think they've served themselves, and the country has been hurt because of it. So it'd be first of all, it would be nice to see some Republicans cooperate on something other than they something they thought was going to be a wedge issue to hurt the Democrats, which has been sort of their MO since 1994.

Second of all, there are some good things that they could agree to. And I'm very happy to see this so called group of 16, which is 16 Senators, eight from each side, starting to cooperate on a rescue package for the COVID situation. So I think there's some hope, but the hope has to be that senators on the Republican side in particular will begin to understand that they represent America, not the Republican Party.

What should Congress do in terms of COVID? relief? I mean, especially in a state like Vermont, the death toll hasn't been very high, but the economy certainly’s been affected.

Yeah, I mean, I'm for the president's package. You know, yes, it raises the deficit. But the Republicans never have a problem with that when they're in power. We need to keep the economy going. And there's no question that the big packages of last summer have kept this economy better, much better than it was. So I pretty much support everything in the Biden package. And we'll hope we hope that the Republicans will at least support some of it so that we can, we can do something for the American people. I think the Republicans have long ago forgotten the American people. That's who pays your salary, not the Republican Party. And I think it's time they started thinking about the people who voted for them instead of how to get reelected.

You've obviously been a figure focused on expanding healthcare to people over your time in public life, but you're also an MD. What do you think COVID has shown us about the health care system that we have in this country and where it needs to be bolstered?

The healthcare system we have is broken. And what if you really wanted real reform, you'd have to get rid of fee-for-service medicine. We have a system that encourages the cost to go up and three times the rate of inflation, which it has every year for 30 years. It's just completely broken. We need we need to have universal health care as the basis to the health care system. And we need to have cost controls. And the way to do that is to get rid of fee-for-service medicine, and have the providers, principally the hospitals who now control health care in this country, have them liable. And on the hook for the tremendous waste of money that fee-for-services costs.

Basically, as a physician, I got paid for doing as much as I possibly could whether you need it or not. And that is how the healthcare system works. If you look at what is in these hospitals, these enormous machines, these very fancy tests, all of which get used. And that's because that's how they make their money. And I don't care if they're for profit or not for profit, the impetus is the same. So we need some major, major restructuring and the basic building blocks of that restructuring have to be universality. Everybody needs health care, and affordability.

It's been about a week of the Biden administration as we speak so far. What do you think the legacy on American democracy is of the Trump years?

I think Trump was awful. I mean, he was just PT Barnum goes to the White House. He is a scam artist. He didn't really care about anything but himself. And he was perfectly willing to undermine democracy, which he did. The really sad part was not Trump. The sad part was the Republican Party who enabled him to do that. I remember when Nixon was removed, essentially, it was Barry Goldwater and Bob Dole went to the White House and told their Republican president that it was time for him to leave. I see no such evidence of statesmanship in today's Republican Party.

Do you give current Governor Phil Scott any credit for being one of the few to speak out against Trump?

I do. I give a lot. I wrote not too long ago that I supported Dave Zuckerman, and I supported Barack Obama against Mitt Romney in 2012. But I deeply appreciate the willingness of both Phil Scott and Mitt Romney, the opponents that I didn't vote for, to stand up and do what was right for the country.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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