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Howard Dean On The 2020 Democratic Field, Clean Water & His Changing View Of Marijuana

Howard Dean talking into a microphone at the VPR Studio
Meg Malone
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean - pictured Feb. 1 during a VPR debate with former Gov. Madeleine Kunin about gubernatorial term length - has a new role with the Democratic National Committee, overseeing its voter data exchange.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is back in the thick of operations at the Democratic National Committee. He's heading up a voter data exchange program, which the party hopes will give it an edge in the 2020 presidential race.The field of 2020 Democratic candidates

Already, more than a dozen Democrats are seeking the presidential nomination, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Dean told VPR that given his role in the DNC, he has to stay neutral in the primary — but he's excited about the field of candidates.

"The other thing that's great about the people who are running is that they actually look like the Democratic Party. ... I think the days of having, you know, seven old white candidates running are over," Dean said. "And that's really encouraging, because our core base is young people, people of color and women."

Former Gov. Howard Dean spoke to VPR's Henry Epp. Listen to their full conversation above.

His changing view on marijuana

Beyond politics, Dean is also now on the advisory board of Tilray, a medical marijuana company that went public last year.

Dean said his view on marijuana has evolved significantly in recent years. A big reason for that, Dean said, stems from his daughter's position as a public defender in the Bronx.

"Many of her clients, they're poor, they're of color and they're poorly educated because they're poor, and all they need is one conviction for one joint to be banned from the above-ground economy for the rest of their life," Dean said. "That is too big a price to pay for making the bad decision about smoking pot."

How to fund waterway cleanup

Dean got his political start advocating for a bike path along Lake Champlain. As lawmakers debate how to pay for needed cleanup of the lake and waterways, Dean said some sort of tax increase is needed to fund the state's clean water obligations.

"I'd think that user taxes make the most sense. ... I mean, I pay an extra, I don't know what, $35 a year on my water bill because I have an asphalt driveway, and I think that's fair," Dean said. "You know, those of us who are contributing to pollution in some way should bear the brunt."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Vermont to come up with a plan to clean up elevated levels of phosphorous in state water bodies, though state lawmakers have struggled to find common ground on the issue.

Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
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