Who will be New Jersey’s Howard Dean in 2013?

Who remembers hearing Dean’s ‘What I Want to Know’ speech? It was a freshwater slap in the face to the orthodoxy of the Democratic Party and the complacence of too many of its members with the trajectory of the Republican in the executive seat. Sound familiar? Well, as you answer, remember this: Howard lost the nomination to lesser lights. Does that teach us anything? But remember this, too: 2 years later (nearly to the day), Dean became DNC Chair, and changed – for a while – the party’s direction and organizing priorities.

Is anything like that even possible in New Jersey? – Rosi

February 21, 2013 will be the 10th Anniversary of the speech (it begins shortly after the two-hour mark) that Howard Dean delivered at the Democratic National Convention’s Winter Meeting that put him on the map as a Presidential candidate and made him the standard-bearer of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party that he still is today.

It is my hope that by this date, the field of candidates for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination will be set and at least one of them will provide rank-and-file Democrats, progressive or otherwise, with the same kind of clarity of vision and voice that Howard Dean gave us on the national level nearly ten years ago.  

State Senator (and former Senate Majority Leader) Barbara Buono, who is the only candidate in the field at the moment, is undoubtedly progressive enough, but it remains to be seen if she can communicate those progressive values as passionately and powerfully as Dean did and continues to do so today.  She has been Governor Chris Christie’s most visible and vocal opponent to date and would have no problem contrasting how differently she would govern our state than the incumbent has to date.

State Senator (and former Acting Governor and Senate President) Richard Codey has the same progressive bona fides as Senator Buono and to his credit played a critical role in securing the endorsement of then-Governor Jim McGreevey and the bulk of the state’s Democratic establishment for Governor Dean towards the end of 2003.  The successful year-plus that he served as the state’s Acting Governor gives him more than enough good will and name recognition to be able to compete with Christie this fall.

Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. is not necessarily as progressive as Senators Buono or Codey, but he is probably the only prospective gubernatorial candidate who the Democratic establishment would commit the full muscularity of their political machines and who could be tolerated by most, if not all, of the progressive community.  As someone who was very critical of Congressman Pascrell during his congressional primary election campaign against Steve Rothman last year, I can testify that what he might lack in progressive values, he more than makes up with moxie, which will come in handy against Christie in the fall.

Senate President Steve Sweeney is a nonstarter.  He might be talking a good game about marriage equality right now, but in January 2010, when he was about to become Senate President and his leadership on this issue was truly needed, he was on the wrong side of history and he will remain there until marriage equality comes to New Jersey.  As Senate President, he has enabled Christie more than he has opposed him.

Fortunately any debate about Sweeney’s progressive bona fides is moot, because I the role that he has assumed as the lead recruiter for the Anybody-but-Buono Committee proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has no interest in risking his Senate seat and Senate Presidency in a head-to-head battle with Christie, particularly when he knows that if Christie is re-elected, he can run four years from now and have a much better chance of winning (assuming for a moment that he can survive a very competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary election).

Former Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts would be nothing more than a sacrificial lamb candidate who might help his good buddy, George Norcross, retain Norcrossippi’s Assembly and Senate seats, but would make the seats in LD14 and LD38 quite vulnerable, which would narrow Democratic majorities, but increase the percentage of Democratic seats that are under the control of Norcross and the other party bosses with whom he is aligned.

It remains to be seen if any Democratic gubernatorial candidate will be able to excite progressives the way that Howard Dean did with words like these.

What I want to know… is why in the world the Democratic party leadership is supporting the president’s unilateral attack on Iraq?

What I want to know… is why are Democratic party leaders supporting tax cuts?  The question is not how big the tax cut should be, the question should be: can we afford a tax cut at all with the largest deficit in the history of this country.?

What I want to know… is why our folks are voting for the president’s No Child Left Behind bill that leaves every child behind, every teacher behind, every school board behind, and every property tax payer behind?

I’m Howard Dean and I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

That said, I am going to give it a try.

What I want to know… is why in the world are far too many Democratic leaders supporting the Governor’s war on public education, teachers, and public employees in general?

What I want to know… is why are Democratic party leaders engaged in any conversation about income tax cuts, when what we need to do is get rid of property taxes and replace them completely with income taxes even if that means increasing them significantly.

What I want to know… is why our folks do not see that the current state charter school law has failed to make innovation the standard for the creation of charter schools, enabling them to cooperate with traditional schools and share an increasing pool of education funding, and instead have supported the Governor’s efforts to force charter and traditional schools to compete with one another for a shrinking pool of education funding, leaving every child, every teacher, and every school, charter and traditional, behind.

I’m ________ ________ and I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

Feel free to give it a try yourselves in the comments.  I would also be curious to know if any of my fellow Dean campaign alums or any of our fellow progressives would be interested in organizing a small (or large) get-together on Thursday, February 21 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the speech and campaign that started it all.  If so, you can post your thoughts in the comments and/or look me up on Facebook if you are not already a Facebook friend.

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