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Dean defends secrecy of Vt. energy task force

Rejects comparison to Cheney's group

WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean has demanded the release of the secret deliberations of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. But as Vermont's governor, Dean had an energy task force that met in secret and angered state legislators.

Dean's group held a public hearing and afterward volunteered the names of the industry executives and the liberal advocates it consulted in private, but the Vermont governor refused to open the task force's closed-door deliberations.

In 1999, Dean offered the same argument the Bush administration uses today for maintaining the secrecy of the deliberations of a policy task force.

"The governor needs to receive advice from time to time in closed session," Dean was quoted as saying. "As every person in government knows, sometimes you get more open discussion when it's not public."

The secrecy of the Vermont task force that devised a policy for restructuring the state's near-bankrupt electric utilities has escaped national attention, even though he has attacked a similar arrangement used by President Bush.

In an interview, Dean defended his recent criticism of Cheney's task force and his demand that the administration release its private energy deliberations even though Dean refused to do that in Vermont.

Dean said his group developed better policy, was bipartisan, and sought advice not only from energy executives, but also environmentalists and low-income advocates.

Dean said his task force was more open because it held a public hearing and divulged afterward the names of the people it consulted even though the content of the discussions with them was kept secret. The Vermont task force "is not exactly the Cheney thing," he said. "We had a much more open process than Cheney's process. We named the people we sought advice from in our final report."

Dean said he still believes it was necessary to keep the task force's deliberations secret, especially because the group was reviewing proprietary financial data from Vermont utilities. "Some advice does have to be given in private, but I don't mind letting people know who gave that advice," he said.

A specialist in political rhetoric said it was risky for Dean to attack Bush and Cheney on an issue where Dean was vulnerable.

"In general, what is good for the vice president should be good for the governor. A candidate who attacks on grounds [where] he is vulnerable is foolish," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who helps run a website that compares the rhetoric of presidential candidates with the facts.

Dean's campaign said it was "laughable" to compare the two task forces. "Governor Dean confronted and averted an energy crisis that would have had disastrous consequences for the citizens of Vermont by bringing together a bipartisan and ideologically diverse working group that solved the problem. Dick Cheney put together a group of his corporate cronies and partisan political contributors, and they gave themselves billions and disguised it as a national energy policy," spokesman Jay Carson said yesterday.

In September, Dean said the task force Cheney assembled in 2001 and the Bush energy policy were unduly influenced by Bush family friend and Enron energy chief Kenneth Lay.

Many state legislators, including Dean's fellow Democrats, were angered that the task force met secretly. "It taints the whole report," Democratic state Rep. Al Stevens said in 1999. "I'd have more faith in that report if the discussions had been open."

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