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John Gregg: Post-Dean Decade

Monday marks the 10-year anniversary of the 2004 New Hampshire presidential primary, where Democrat John Kerry effectively crushed the White House dreams of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

But Dean’s grassroots campaign — which relied on MeetUps and other then-novel Internet organizing — did bring several Connecticut River Valley residents into the political process. So, where are they now?

Norwich native Zephyr Teachout, then a 31-year-old lawyer who became a minor Web celebrity as director of Dean’s Internet organizing and outreach, remains politically active.

Now an associate professor at Fordham University School of Law, Teachout specializes in political law and has just completed a book for Harvard University Press on corruption in the American political process.

Via email, the former standout runner at Hanover High noted with some glee that she was cited in Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent in the landmark Citizens United campaign finance ruling — “and less warmly, in the concurrence” by Justice Antonin Scalia.

Teachout backs public funding of campaigns with a focus on small-dollar matching funds, and said “decentralized power” in both economics and politics remains a major theme.

“I learned how politically amazing and powerful citizens are, of all kinds, from all over the country,” Teachout said, when asked about the impact on her of the Dean campaign. “It gave me a great deal of skepticism for experts, and a great deal of faith in civic capacity.”

Dean’s campaign also inspired Karen Liot Hill, then a Lebanon Republican who had recently graduated from Dartmouth. Liot Hill became involved in grassroots Democratic politics, helped manage some local campaigns, was elected to the Lebanon City Council, and served as mayor.

“The biggest lesson for me is that we really do have a lot more power than we realize to make a difference in our communities. It literally is about learning the process and showing up,” Liot Hill said of her experience volunteering for Dean in 2004. “For elections, winning is simply about 50 percent plus 1. And politics is about groups of people coming together to accomplish something they couldn’t do on their own, whether that’s winning an election or building a new school.”

Dean’s campaign also motivated Jacob Crumbine, then a 19-year-old freshman at Dartmouth who, taking Dean’s advice, telephoned more than 550 Democrats across Vermont to win election as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Now going by Jake Crumbine, he’s out in Los Angeles, working as a development coordinator for a television and film production company and looking for his big breakthrough as an actor and writer.

“Being involved with the Dean campaign informs my writing and development process on a daily basis,” said Crumbine, who last year guest-starred on the TNT show Franklin & Bash. “Political films/shows like House of Cards (and) Ides of March ... are some of my favorites and I hope to produce or write something in that vein.”

Another Dean alumnus was scheduler Sarah Buxton. After graduating from Vermont Law School, she managed to eke out a narrow victory in the Vermont House in 2010 over a Republican incumbent, and now represents Royalton and Tunbridge, where she lives.

Also heavily involved in local politics, albeit in her native Windham County, is Kate O’Connor, Dean’s longtime gubernatorial aide and a top lieutenant in the campaign.

O’Connor, a selectwoman in Brattleboro, serves as treasurer of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s campaign committee and is the executive director of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce. She also wrote a book, Do the Impossible: My Crash Course in Presidential Politics Inside the Howard Dean Campaign.

“I can’t believe it’s 10 years,” she said in a phone interview. “I learned a lot, that nothing is out of reach. There was a time when everyone was saying who is Howard Dean, and why is he running for president? It taught all of us that we can achieve what we want to achieve, and you might as well give it a try.

“Just don’t scream,” O’Connor added.

Ah, yes, the scream, Dean’s infamous — and overemphasized — rallying cry to supporters after he fell short in the Iowa caucuses.

Dean, a “senior strategic adviser and independent consultant” for the law and lobbying firm McKenna Long & Aldridge in Washington, alluded to his “yeeeeaaarrrrrghhhh” moment in a fundraising email to Democracy for America supporters on Sunday.

“In a funny way, that moment was the launch of the 50-state strategy — a leave no community behind framework for change that transformed the Democratic Party in the years to come, fueling my campaign to become DNC chair in 2005 and the fight to take back Congress in 2006 and the presidency in 2008,” Dean wrote.

Dean still lives in Vermont, and his wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg, continues to practice medicine in Shelburne, O’Connor said.

John Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.