Dean roars into town

Democrats welcome new DNC leader

There were plenty of screams Friday afternoon at Liberty Hall, but none of them came from Howard Dean.

Instead, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee was cheered enthusiastically by a sign-waving crowd gathered to hear Dean’s message that the party must build its strength in traditionally Republican states such as Kansas.

“We need to go everywhere,” he told the rally. “There is not one county in this state, I don’t care how far west you go, that doesn’t have Democrats. We have to be proud of who we are.”

It was a message gladly received among the Democratic faithful.

“It was wonderful, very energizing, a very positive, powerful message,” said Micheline Burger, who joined nearly 1,000 others in paying $5 to hear Dean, the former presidential candidate. “It gives me a hope there’s a good future ahead of us, as opposed to what we’ve been having the last four years.”

Mark Simpson, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, was unavailable to say how much the party raised Friday. But Dean’s rally, along with a $100-a-head fund-raiser at the home of Lawrence residents John and Nancy Hiebert, provided the state party with a fresh infusion of cash.

Just as important, other officials said, they got some inspiration.

“Just enthusiasm,” said Kathy Greenlee, chair of Douglas County Democrats. “Not only for Democrats in Douglas County, but Democrats across Kansas.”

Red meat

Howard Dean addresses a crowd of about 1,000 Democrats at Liberty Hall. Dean, a former U.S. presidential candidate and now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, also visited the home of a Lawrence couple Friday, where donors gave 00 a head to the DNC.

More than 100 people attended the Hiebert fund-raiser, where the house was festooned with a dozen “Dean for America” signs in the front yard.

Media weren’t allowed into the event. But Dean spoke in the Hieberts’ backyard, over a public address system, making it relatively easy to hear and see — there were wide slits in the fence — from a side street. At one point a group of four people quietly huddled at the fence to listen.

His speech was similar in both Liberty Hall and the Hiebert back yard. Democrats, he said, must reframe the values debate, claiming the high ground on Social Security, health care and protecting American security.

“Those are Kansas values,” he said.

But the Hiebert crowd got a little more red meat than the Liberty Hall attendees.

On abortion specifically, he said, the party must commit to making abortions “safe, legal and rare” while maintaining women’s rights to choose.

“The issue is not abortion,” Dean told the closed-door fund-raiser. “The issue is whether women can make up their own mind instead of some right-wing pastor, some right-wing politician telling them what to do.”

And Dean told the Hiebert fund-raiser that gay marriage was a Republican diversion from discussions of ballooning deficits and lost American jobs. That presents an opportunity to attract moderate Republicans, he said.

“Moderate Republicans can’t stand these people (conservatives), because they’re intolerant. They don’t think tolerance is a virtue,” Dean said, adding: “I’m not going to have these right-wingers throw away our right to be tolerant.”

And concluding his backyard speech with a litany of Democratic values, he added: “This is a struggle of good and evil. And we’re the good.”

When told of Dean’s remarks, Derrick Sontag — executive director of the Kansas Republican Party — said he was “shocked.”

“My immediate reaction to that whole dialogue is, it’s full of hatred,” Sontag said. “The Democratic Party has elected a leader that’s full of hatred.”

‘Energy and focus’

A life-size cardboard cutout of Howard Dean is hoisted into the air by cheering supporters while the real Dean takes to the stage at Liberty Hall. Dean, former presidential candidate and now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, spoke to a crowd of about 1,000 democrats at Friday's fund-raiser for the DNC.

Back at Liberty Hall, the ruling party’s supporters weren’t entirely absent from the area. Lawrence entrepreneur Eric Haar held a one-man demonstration in front of the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass. With a Bush-Cheney sign in his hand, he sat silently as the crowd of Lawrence liberals shuffled toward the event.

“I just want to show people driving by that not everybody is gung-ho and crazy about this Howard Dean thing,” Haar said. “I have been flipped off four times.”

Inside the hall, some people who saw Dean’s speech thought the former candidate for the presidency had watered down his rhetoric.

“I feel like he could have gone even stronger with his language,” said Katherine Dessert, a student and preschool teacher. “I feel like he was a little bit too conservative. It didn’t move me.”

Plenty of Douglas County and Kansas Democrats turned out Friday for Howard Dean’s appearance in Lawrence.Attendees for the fund-raiser at John and Nancy Hiebert’s home included former Douglas County Democratic Chairwoman Alice Lieberman, current Chairwoman Kathy Greenlee, state Reps. Barbara Ballard and Tom Holland, attorney Dan Watkins, former Lawrence High School principal Brad Tate, attorney Kay Huff, architect Dan Sabatini, former U.S. Congressional candidate Nancy Boyda, Douglas County Commissioner Charles Jones, City Commissioner David Schauner and Dist. Atty. Charles Branson.

Dean was joined on the Liberty Hall stage by a slew of state and local Democratic officials, but not two of the highest Democrats in the state: Rep. Dennis Moore and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius said she had breakfast with Dean and was impressed with his enthusiasm.

” I think he will be a good chairman for the party. I think he has energy and focus,” she said.

And Larry Gates, chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said officials would take Dean’s message to heart.

“We have to compete at every level,” Gates said. “That’s what we’re doing tonight: showing up.”

— Staff writers Scott Rothschild and Jay Senter contributed to this report.

Jeff Watson, 25, Kansas Public Radio employee, Lawrence, on the pro-Democrat message:photo “That’s absolutely what people need to hear, especially in a state like this — that if you’re a Democrat and you think like a Democrat, you’re not wrong. You’re not right. Nobody is ever wholly right. But you’re not wrong.”Sarah Stacey, 21, Kansas University student, Lawrence, on Dean:photo “I think Howard Dean is just a very charismatic character for the Democratic party, and we definitely need to regroup, especially in Kansas. I think it’s great he’s coming out to the red states and trying to recharge the party.”Katherine Dessert, 23, mother, preschool teacher and student, Lawrence, on the Democratic event:photo “It didn’t move me. This is sort of a problem I have between Democrats and Republicans: the constant language that the other side is wrong. I don’t think that kind of language or approach is very effective.”Eric Haar, 31, entrepreneur, Lawrence, on why he decided to stand near the event with a Bush-Cheney sign:photo “I support President Bush. I just want to show people driving by that not everybody is gung-ho and crazy about this Howard Dean thing.”Joe McGuire, 23, musician and DJ, Lawrencephoto “I think that people were really fired up in there, but it’s easy to get fired up and then let that energy go idle, so I hope that people do take it back.”Debbie Fuller, 45, pharmacist, Lawrencephoto “I think Howard Dean is a good speaker. I think he’s charismatic and we need his voice now. I think he had clear things that we needed to do before the next election.”Katie Farmer, Kansas University student, Lawrence, on the atmosphere during Dean’s speech:photo “The atmosphere was amazing. There was alot of energy and a lot of coming together.”