University News

Q & A: Taubman center shaped alum’s run for governor

By
Staff Writer
Friday, February 5, 2010

Matt Dunne ’92 is in the midst of a five-person race for the Democratic nomination for governor of Vermont. Dunne concentrated in public policy and American institutions at Brown, has served in the Vermont state senate and currently works for Google. He lives in Vermont with his wife and children. The Herald had the chance to ask him about his memories from Brown, his campaign and his plans for the future.

The Herald: You graduated from Brown in 1992 with a degree in public policy. Did this influence your decision to go into politics?
Dunne: I already was interested in politics when I arrived at Brown and, in fact, one of the reasons I chose Brown was that I visited the Taubman Center (for Public Policy) when I visited campus. It was clearly a place that was focused on innovation in policy and the real world. That was exciting and I ended up spending much of my time at Brown when I wasn’t in the theater at the Taubman Center. What I tell people about my experience at Brown is that it’s a place that teaches you to have no fear, so when I graduated, a couple people encouraged me to run for office the same year that I graduated and, with the inspiration that Brown gives students, I jumped into the race and it wasn’t a surprise to anyone that I won.

How were you involved in theater?
I spent most of my class time in the public policy program and the rest of my time doing theater. I was actively involved with theater as well as with the programs in playwriting. Friends used to joke that I was the only person who actually used my degree after college to pursue a career. The art of communication is nearly as important as an understanding of policy in order to be an effective elected official.

Did you have any memorable classes or professors?

Certainly. Professor Cheit (Ross Cheit, associate professor of political science) was a strong influence on me, both in ethics class, as well as an adviser on my senior thesis. Professor Zuckerman (Alan Zuckerman, former professor of political science) was an extraordinary teacher on political theory. I also thoroughly enjoyed my classes with Tori Haring-Smith (former professor of theater), Paula Vogel (former professor of literary arts) and Lowry Marshall (professor of theater, speech and dance).

How are you feeling about your current campaign for governor?
It’s a very exciting time to be running for office. The momentum is fantastic. Over 100 people signed up to volunteer for the campaign. We are reaching out to Vermonters across the state to get involved.
I think my experiences helping build a Vermont-based software company, my current work at Google, as well as my experience transforming a large federal program (AmeriCorps VISTA) prepare me well to bring Vermont into a new era.

Who do you believe is your biggest competition of the other Democratic contenders?
Right now you’ve got five people who are running who all have a base of support and I don’t think there’s anyone who is seen as a frontrunner.
I’ve not been in the legislature or elected office in the last five years. We don’t think that will be a problem given current sentiment towards elected government. It actually may be an asset and I was quickly moved into the ranks of those who may win the primary and the general election.

If you are elected governor, what is the first thing you would like to accomplish?
The first thing we need to do is make sure Vermont (is) a place where we can build entrepreneur-based jobs. When Vermont has been successful in the past has been when we are an innovation-based state, and unfortunately, we are not there today. My first order of business would be to bring high-speed fiber optic broadband to the state. The software company I was a part of was started in a barn. Google was started in a garage. If you don’t have broadband in a barn and garage, you won’t have entrepreneurs. We need direct investment in institutions of higher education to bring ideas from classes into the marketplace. Third is we have to create access to early-stage capital.

Do you find that your job at Google acts as a complement to your role as a state senator?
It has certainly given me exposure to the cutting-edge innovation that can allow us to transform the way that we do government, as well as transform the way that we think about job creation.

Do you aspire to continue in politics, maybe one day on a national level?
Oh, for right now I am focused on becoming the governor of the state that I love and hopefully moving it to a better place. I live today in the farmhouse that I grew up in, and I’m raising my family there, and my only calling now is to leave my state better than I inherited it.

Do you have any advice for Brown students hoping to go into politics?
Have no fear. If you are interested in politics, you will always be forgiven if you run at a young age, passionate about making change happen and with a willingness to work hard on behalf of people you represent. Even if a young person doesn’t win, the experience you gain from that campaign process will serve anyone well for the rest of their career.
The only other piece is that I’ve spent my career empowering young people in the political process, and that resulted from being empowered by my home community.
The other was the real-world approach that the public policy program at Brown brought to classes and academic learning. I actually was inspired by the work of the Taubman Center and the encouragement to bring one’s academic interests into the real world. That led me to actually create two political research shops, one at the University of Vermont and the other at Dartmouth to provide objective research to legislatures. The ability to make a difference and to learn from that engagement is significant. So that’s another piece of Brown that I brought with me to my work in Vermont.