Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Dean re-emerging to push healthcare"

The Hill:
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), who used healthcare reform as a signature issue during his 2004 presidential campaign, is using a call for universal coverage to raise his profile once again.
Dean left his position as chairman of the Democratic National Committee in January after four years at the helm. During his time at the DNC, Dean's so-called 50-state strategy was widely credited with helping Democrats win congressional seats in areas where the party had not competed for years.

Now, Dean is using Democracy For America — the organizing group that grew out of Dean's presidential campaign — to build a 50-state strategy advocating for public healthcare.

Dean has added his name to five DFA e-mails since the beginning of March, aiming to build a list of grassroots supporters in each state. So far, DFA says it has gathered more than 250,000 signatures for a petition through a website, StandWithDrDean.com — signatures that have generated about 34,000 letters to the editor.

The petitions will be delivered to members of Congress, both in their home districts and on Capitol Hill, later this year, while list members will be urged to serve as media responders and grassroots activists.

Dean "feels very passionately about healthcare, so we are more than happy to have DFA as a vehicle for him to advocate that change," said Arshad Hasan, DFA's executive director.

In recent years, DFA has been little more than a campaign organization, endorsing liberal candidates and helping raise money. But with Dean back on board after his four-year hiatus, the group intends to transform itself into what Hasan described as a single-issue advocacy organization.

"The governor coming back allows us to move it to the next level," Hasan said.

The association with many who worked on his presidential campaign will give Dean a national platform from which to remain a part of the debate. Earlier this year, several Dean allies expressed displeasure with the way President Obama treated the former governor during his transition.

Despite several high-profile endorsements from backers like Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and liberal columnists like Katrina vanden Heuvel and Eleanor Clift, Obama twice passed over Dean as secretary of Health and Human Services.

Thus snubbed, Dean has effectively set himself up as an alternative to the White House, a position from which he could give liberals a voice to pressure Obama. The quarter-million signatures, Hasan said, "speaks to the governor's ability to motivate and mobilize."

The grassroots effort is something of a Dean specialty. His presidential campaign was funded largely by contributions over the Internet and generated excitement around the country.

"He is someone who cares very much about strengthening the grassroots in our country," said Karen Finney, the former DNC communications director who is now Dean's spokeswoman. "The governor is using these opportunities to continue to work on the issues he cares about."

DFA publicly supports the president, but they make clear the goal of moving the debate to the left. "Not only do we have to help Obama achieve his progressive goals, we need to keep pushing the envelope on the progressive issues of tomorrow," the organization's website says.

Though some have speculated that Dean's renewed public involvement could presage a return to national politics, others who know him say they doubt that's the case.
"Washington expects everyone to have an ulterior motive but that’s just not Dean's style. With Dean, what you see is what you get," said one Democratic strategist who talks with the former governor regularly. "He ran for president because he wanted to make sure everyone was covered."

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