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Highlights from Vermont governor debate with Phil Scott and Brenda Siegel

Vermont Edition's Mikaela Lefrak moderated a debate Thursday with candidates for Vermont governor: Republican incumbent Gov. Phil Scott, left, and Democratic challenger Brenda Siegel.

The two major party candidates for Vermont governor met Tuesday in a Vermont Public debate moderated by Vermont Edition co-host Mikaela Lefrak. Republican incumbent Gov. Phil Scott, from Berlin, faced off against Democratic challenger Brenda Siegel, who lives in Newfane.

Watch the full debate here.

Here are the highlights.


The debate started with the candidates clashing over how to reduce Vermont’s emissions.

Scott said he's a big believer in vehicle electrification.

"We've been making strides … with electric public buses, with school buses, as well as trying to change our fleet in the state to electric vehicles," Scott said, adding "as well, weatherization, I believe that this both saves money for the homeowner, makes Vermont more affordable, but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions."

But Siegel said Vermont has to do more than address emissions "one electric vehicle at a time."

"Families like mine and families across the state can't afford $10,000 or $15,000 to get an electric vehicle. Even with incentives, it's not possible," she said. "And we have to have a Public Utilities Commission that is allowing the build of in-state renewable energy."


When it comes to the opioid crisis, Siegel and Scott disagreed on one harm-reduction strategy: safe injection sites.

Siegel supports trying these sites — where where people can use drugs under the supervision of health care workers — in Vermont.

"There are several city or town centers, where there already is a concentrated population of people who are using, injecting drugs, and that's happening in front of our children on the streets. And this is also a way to protect that," she said. "And there is, in other countries ... things like mobile units, where we bring the harm reduction centers to the communities where it's happening."

But Scott doesn't think these injection sites are the answer for Vermont.

"Not at this time, because we know what works, and we need to put our limited resources towards that," he said. "I don't want to take money away from those proven — the hub-and-spoke model and so forth—that we've been successful with here in Vermont, to do something with an experiment ... in a rural state like Vermont, in particular."

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Both candidates agreed the state needs more housing units. But they disagreed on how to get there. 

Scott said: "The pandemic is over. So we have to go back to something that is much more reasonable, something that we can afford, we can't afford everything that was provided during that time."

Siegel responded: "We need to be realistic that the housing that we're putting online right now is not going to meet the need now, or in five years. And we have to make sure that we are meeting the need, and having a temporary fix right now, so that people remain housed."


The candidates challenged each other on paying for their campaign promises. 

"We have to invest, make strategic investments," Siegel said to Scott. "One of my concerns about this administration, is that you have not made those strategic investments."

She added: "So I would argue that we are actually spending quite a lot of money right now by not solving these problems. And it's time for us to be responsible with Vermont taxpayer dollars."

Scott told Siegel he does believe his administration is solving problems.

"I'm asking you, because you're making all these promises, where you're going to come up with a half a billion dollars to a billion to do this," he said. "I know you saying we're paying for it now. But there has to be a transition. You can't — you don't have a magic switch to do this, do you?"


They also discussed resettlement efforts of Afghan refugees, amid a shortage of affordable housing in Vermont.

Scott said: "We have a lot of refugees from Afghanistan that have landed there, we have a moral obligation to make sure that we accept as many as possible. I've asked the former administration, the Trump administration, to increase our allotment. We never received response on that.

"I did the same with the Biden administration, and they have increased our allotment. So, we're using that again, from a moral perspective or responsibility. But also pragmatically, we need more people, we need more diversity here in the state."

Siegel responded: "I'm really just proud of the people that I know that are working so hard on that. I am a little concerned that, in many areas of the state, people who are refugees who don't know the language and don't have transportation, are being sometimes housed in places that are extraordinarily rural, and they don't have access to grocery stores because of it, and other types of support. So, that's a little bit extra work that we need to do."

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