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Candidate Conversations: David Zuckerman Runs For Governor

David Zuckerman speaks at a podium in Hinesburg.
Peter Hirschfeld
David Zuckerman is the Democratic and Progressive gubernatorial candidate running against incumbent Republican Phil Scott.

The Nov. 3 election is less than a month away, and all active, registered Vermont voters should already have received their ballots in the mail. This hour, we kick off a series of one-on-one interviews with candidates for top office with David Zuckerman, the Democratic/Progressive nominee for governor.

Our guest is:

  • David Zuckerman, Vermont's current lieutenant governor and the Democratic/Progressive gubernatorial nominee

Broadcast live on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

VPR sought interviews with each of the major party candidates running for governor and lieutenant governor. We were able to schedule interviews with Molly Gray (Democrat, Lieutenant Governor) and David Zuckerman (Progressive/Democrat, Governor). Phil Scott (Republican, Governor) was unable to find a date that would work to appear on Vermont Edition and Scott Milne (Republican, Lieutenant Governor) at first accepted, then declined an invitation to appear on the program. Cris Ericson (Progressive, Lieutenant Governor) did not respond to the program's invitation to participate.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Browse by key issue:

Legislative Priorities

Funding The Green Mountain New Deal

The Opioid Crisis

The Cost of Health Care

Public Education and Rural Schools

The Role of The Lieutenant Governor

On Vaccination And A COVID-19 Vaccine

Legislative Priorities

Jane Lindholm: What is the very first thing that you would want to tackle beyond the budget, which, we know is always an ongoing priority for any governor when you get into office?

David Zuckerman: Well, I think it's important to recognize there's always more than one thing; I've never really liked this question. The reality is we have struggling Vermonters, from an economic perspective and with unemployment. We have the climate crisis to continue doing much more aggressive work on. We have to devote people to expanding broadband into our rural areas. There are childcare issues to tackle, where there are not enough slots and it's still unaffordable. So to me, it's the broad topic of Vermonters' economic well-being.

More from VPR: A Guide To Voting In Vermont For The 2020 General Election

But what does economic well-being actually mean? What is it that you're going to do for us? What is the policy priority that you're going to put forth in your first State of the State speech, saying that you are directing the Legislature to move forward on, according to your priorities?

I've been very clear that I would work towards a policy of investing some of the money that the wealthiest Vermonters have saved under the Trump tax cuts in putting people to work in a Green Mountain New Deal, a climate economy policy that would immediately put people to work weatherizing working class Vermonters’ homes, fixed-income seniors’ homes.

Not only would we be adding jobs to our incredibly high unemployment rolls right now – we need to put people to work – we'd be working on saving people money on their energy bills. Struggling Vermonters do want to see their expenses brought under control. And a big way to do that is to save them money on their energy bills, whether it's through weatherization or adding solar and other renewable energy to their households. You know, we need to make those investments.

We need to make investments in affordable housing. We're seeing a land rush of epic proportions. One of my employees just finally texted me last night and said we finally got a house. He'd been looking for a month. He'd been outbid by out-of-staters buying properties sight unseen for even $50,000 more than local folks were able to bid. And so we have a huge issue in affordable housing. I would work on an affordable housing bill with the Legislature.

More from Vermont Edition: Zuckerman Differentiates Himself From Scott On COVID-19 Response

And of course, I’d do that with the overarching theme of continuing Vermont's good response on the COVID-19 crisis. I would maintain Dr. Levine as our commissioner of health. I would look to see if some of the other secretaries and commissioners would stay on, either in their current roles or in a COVID-19 management capacity so that we keep a continuous and smooth transition with how we've handled the COVID-19 crisis.

Frankly, Vermonters deserve a huge amount of credit for looking out for each other and doing the right thing. But also, we've made the right decisions. This administration has taken good steps around the COVID-19 crisis, and I would want to make sure we maintain Vermonters’ health.

Funding the Green Mountain New Deal

Jane Lindholm: I'm glad that you mentioned the Green Mountain New Deal, because this is one of the initiatives that you and others are prioritizing and touting. And you've also signed on to the pledge to work toward a federal green new deal. Beyond expanding broadband infrastructure, beyond home weatherization – as you’ve mentioned – what else would a Green Mountain New Deal under Gov. Zuckerman include?

David Zuckerman: It would include affordable housing being built in our town and village centers in our rural areas. We have seen a decline in population in our rural areas. Thankfully it’s not been as great as in many of the rural parts of this country, but it’s still troubling. It's hurting our schools, causing school populations to decline.

If we were to build affordable housing in our town and village centers, that would help not only with the potential for family-aged folks to come to Vermont and stay in Vermont and keep their kids in our schools, but would also create the opportunity for a local coffee shop to open, if people lived and worked in our villages and town centers, not only with affordable housing, but also with more broadband.

The governor and I have debated the issue of broadband a couple of times throughout this fall's debates, and there's a really clear difference between us. He says it's just too expensive. You know: we can't get it done; it's a pipe dream to have broadband all over the place. And my argument is: Wait a minute; if you keep saying it can't happen, it won't happen. But if we make the investment year over year with significant resources and we use our state investments to draw down federal matching funding, we will expand the reach of broadband. We have 70,000 Vermont families unable to really access quality broadband, which is a huge issue right now with respect to kids and education, with respect to economic opportunity for the future. These are investments that will pay off in multiple ways. And we've got to start making those investments, or we're never going to get there.

What kinds of regulations or permitting processes would you change to encourage more affordable housing development in Vermont, when there has always been that tension between development and preserving a rural landscape? How would your administration smooth the path for more development of affordable housing units?

Well, I would work with the Legislature to do two things: One, invest resources in affordable housing development. We have the Housing Conservation Board. We have resources that go there from the property transfer tax. We could increase that fund by increasing that tax on the highest-cost homes, those over $700,000. And, I appreciate that the governor and the Legislature did a bond a number of years ago for affordable housing, but we're still thousands of units short.

So it's about both permitting and investment.

More from VPR: Scott And Zuckerman Face Off In First Gubernatorial Debate

With respect to permitting, I would look at our town and village centers. I recognize there was legislation starting to go in that direction. It got sideswiped by COVID-19 because it didn't have the same kind of public input process that we would normally want. But I think we have to adjust our permitting in our town and village centers.

You mentioned preserving our rural landscape. It's not good for the landscape, it's not good for the climate, it’s not good for our economy to continue to build housing scattershot all over the landscape. If we focus it in our town and village centers and we look at ways to adjust permitting to do that, then I think we can really improve Vermonters’ lives, their economic well-being, the affordability of housing and our climate crisis by having people live and work in-place rather than what we do right now in Vermont, which is drive more miles to work per capita than almost any other state in the country. We have to start to address these issues if we want a state and a country and a planet for our children.

I want to talk about how you would fund this Green Mountain New Deal.

I'm sure you saw a Seven Days story published today, where reporter Paul Heintz wrote that although you've been saying you'd raise $100 million from the state's top income earners to fund this Green Mountain New Deal, you hadn't previously produced many numbers on how you would do that.

And in response to his reporting, he says you and some allies of your candidacy, including state auditor Doug Hoffer, have come up with a plan. But the plan actually only raises about $50 million from the state's top income earners, and those would be defined as those who earn $200,000 or more.

You had initially said the top 5 %, but that would include some Vermonters with incomes slightly lower than that as well, and said that the other half would come from bonding: debt that the state would take on and pay off later.

Is that the funding mechanism that you stand by today?

Well, I appreciate Paul Heintz's attempt to report on this. Although, you know, some of what we told him was not fully reported there.

We made it clear that what I will do is work with the Legislature and offered some ideas. What I originally talked about was related to a document I got from the Joint Fiscal Office.

There are basically two places to get numbers in Vermont government: the Joint Fiscal Office and the tax department. Given the governor's exclusion of me from cabinet level meetings – and anything else, for that matter – my accessing specific tax department numbers was going to be onerous. So I went with the Joint Fiscal Office, who made it very clear that those making over $250,000 or so a year were [collectively] saving over $250 million a year in federal taxes under the Trump tax cuts.

And so I have been saying, and I continue to stand by it, that those folks could afford to help us with half or even less than half of that tax cut, to the tune of about $100 million a year.

What Paul Heintz asked for was some very specific models for how this could happen. So we showed him the model [that reflected]: what if it was $50 million on those folks, and $50 million in bonding?

Because when you're talking about housing and broadband, investment and weatherization, these are long term investments that will pay back. So if we weatherize a home and we use money to do that, the savings on that home are immediate. And those folks could pay back the zero-interest loan from the state and the state could pay back the majority of bonding with those resources.

So whether it's bonding or other creative financing, our treasurer, has indicated she would work with me to find out whether it's solely a marginal tax rate on the wealthiest Vermonters [that would make this feasible]. That would be determined by an inclusive process involving the treasurer, the auditor and the Vermont legislators to figure out the best way to come up with that $100 million.

But remember, we need to put stimulus into this economy coming out of COVID-19. We need to put Vermonters back to work. We can't rely on the unemployment fund to carry us through forever. We can't, as the governor said, hope that the federal government comes through with funding. I'm certainly hopeful for that. But, you know, you've got to have a plan B and a plan C to make sure we can get people to work. And I'd like to see us do that, whether it's through the marginal tax rate or [through] a combination of marginal taxes on the wealthiest and some bonding.

This isn't a total characterization of what you're saying, lieutenant governor, but, in some ways, it sounds like what you're saying is: ‘I'd like to raise $100 million dollars and other people are going to have to find the way to do that, because I don't have the plan.’

I mean, I've said very clearly a marginal tax rate on the wealthiest. I think that's pretty straightforward.

But in the reporting that Paul Heintz put out today, it sounds like that would only come up with funding for half of the plan.

Well, it depends on what the rate is. You can set the rate to make it to be 100; You can set the rate to make it 50. These are the conversations that you have with Vermonters. I'm not a ‘my way or the highway’ kind of person, the way that the governor, with his 20 vetoes in four years has been. It's much more of a collaborative approach that says, ‘I believe the marginal rate can do it.’ I've also heard others concerned about that. So I've put out [the idea that] maybe we do it partly with the marginal rate and partly with bonding or other creative financing.

But what I'm committed to is making sure we do find those resources and invest in Vermonters, so we get people back to work, we build affordable housing, we weatherize people's homes, and we build out broadband. It's about ideas and vision and bringing those to the Legislature and working out the details.

The Opioid Crisis

John, caller: With opioid cases up exponentially in the coronavirus environment, what steps do you propose the state takes to address that in a novel way, in a way that will drastically help to mitigate this and decrease the frequency of these overdose cases?

David Zuckerman: This is a real crisis across our state, and I applaud Gov. Shumlin for a long time ago, highlighting it when it wasn't a popular political thing to say, the challenges we face. That takes real courage.

And we're now seeing, as you spoke about at the beginning of the show, a 36% increase this year in opioid deaths.

As some may know, I've been a longtime advocate of cannabis reform. And I'm glad that the governor allowed the bill to become law, a bill that he'd been in the way of for many, many years that I wish had gone into effect years ago. We would have had far more resources for addressing both drug prevention and drug treatment.

More from Vermont Edition: What You Need To Know About Vermont’s New Tax-And-Regulate System For Cannabis

But also, I spoke to someone yesterday who has chronic pain and had been taking opioids and he expressed directly to me how appreciative he was of my work on medical cannabis, where he then was using cannabis to manage the pain and had gotten off of those painkillers.

We know those painkillers are the lead cause of people becoming opioid addicted. And now if we look at why people are struggling, why people are maybe overdosing more frequently, it is often [related to] the underlying issues of economic struggle, housing struggles, mental health challenges. And this is where I sort of think about the term deferred maintenance.

You know, our governor has said he's balanced the budget and done a great job of caring for our vulnerable. But when you defer maintenance, when you don't build enough affordable housing, when we don't put enough money into the economic well-being of Vermonters or mental health challenges, you then end up with these costs down the line. And as a cost, someone's life is worth a lot more than any money. We need to make sure we invest in these societal infrastructure pieces to help these families and these individuals.

I am someone who supports a conversation about safe spaces for those who are utilizing opioids and to say, ‘Do it here in a safe space.’ That way, if you run into an overdose situation, there's someone immediately there to help with the counter drugs. And it's also an opportunity for our health workers and our mental health workers and our social workers to start to meet and get to know folks to offer them the support and help they need to wean themselves from substance abuse disorder, to get them back on their feet, find them housing, work with them. And until we find the individuals who are struggling and help them through this struggle, we're going to continue to see these kinds of overdoses.

More from VPR: ‘We’re Stretched’: Mental Health Providers On The Pandemic’s Toll

Jane Lindholm: On the question of safe sites – sometimes they're called safe injection sites - areas where people can use drugs that may or may not be legal, under supervision and without fear of being arrested or having law enforcement come in.

That is a conversation that has been started in Burlington and in other communities around the state and around the country. But it hasn't gone forward, partly because law enforcement is not always supportive and there are often federal questions as well.

If you were governor and you were supporting safe injection sites, you have limited ability to make that happen, given local jurisdictions and what kind of control they would have over them. So how would you actually try to move the ball forward on that issue?

Well, I think all of these balls get moved forward with open conversations with everybody who's involved, from law enforcement to local officials. Certainly, we're not going to force this down any community's throat. I think that would be too much of a state push on everybody. But there are communities, like Burlington and others, that are talking about this. And one of the reasons they're talking about it is because we know folks are utilizing these substances, whether we have it out in the open or whether it's closed in and hidden or in a car in a parking lot. The bottom line is it's already happening. So why wouldn't we want to do it in a safer way and in a way where we can access folks and then start to help them move away from these substances with the societal support structure that they need?

Remember, a lot of the crime that happens is not because someone is doing drugs, but it's because their body is physically addicted and chemically dependent on these substances. And they're doing petty crime to get the money to feed the addiction. So why wouldn't we want to protect all of our citizens by reducing that demand, by helping these folks wean themselves from these challenges?

The Cost Of Health Care

Jane Lindholm: We got a note from Hen who says, “I've been fighting cancer for seven years. Health care costs are my biggest source of both emotional and financial stress. With the federal government seemingly giving up on Medicare for all, what will you do at the state level to alleviate the immense pressure that I and many other chronically ill Vermonters experience?

David Zuckerman: There's a combination of things here. First of all, I would start working towards at least a universal primary care system. I've talked to a few businesses that are implementing that in their own private health care for their employees, and they are saving money and their employees are missing fewer days of work because their employees know that they can get regular checkups, which means hopefully detecting things like cancer earlier or detecting other chronic illnesses earlier in their development, which means earlier intervention and therefore, in many cases, lower costs and better outcomes. So part of it is around investing in the future so we don't have people getting into the situation that Hen is in.

You know, we are one of the only industrialized countries in the world that doesn't have a universal health care system. I certainly would have the goal of getting there. I believe it's better for our business. I believe it's better for our citizens.

With respect to your circumstances in this moment; that is much more difficult – to immediately change the cost structure and the benefits and the protections. But when I look at Vermont health care costs, which have risen much faster, 30 % faster than the national average since 2000, I would look at why is that happening. Is it partly happening because we're older? Sure. But is it partly happening because of our health care structure? Quite possibly. And we need to start doing the job, not of just saying: I'll fix it with a magic wand, but say I'm willing to go into the front lines of these institutions and our health care system, to roll up our sleeves and figure out what those driving costs are.

Explore the results of the new VPR-Vermont PBS Poll

We need to go to the people that know what those driving costs are and say, ‘OK, what are the solutions to bringing those down?’ Many people with cancer have huge bills with respect to chemotherapy and drug costs. Why do we still allow the pharmaceutical companies to charge as much as they do for many of these medications, when overseas they charge much, much lower prices for these medications? We really need to look at that.

We passed a bill in the Legislature a few years ago aimed at importing drugs from Canada. I would do much more work to address that with the federal government to allow that.

I would like to see a governor who's willing to either take on President Trump much more forcefully, not in a passive, gentle way, as our current governor has, but in a much more forceful way – if it is Trump – and in a much more collaborative way if it's Biden, to be able to move forward with drug importation, including some of these cancer drugs.

How much more could you do? I mean, the state has tried to move forward by getting waivers from the federal government on drug pricing and importing drugs from Canada already.

Well, certainly we know that this governor and this president didn't make that happen. I think with me as governor and a new president, we will see that happen. I think it's partly whether there’s a disaster of a president like Trump, who claimed he was going to do drug importation. But this current governor could say, ‘You know, President Trump, you said you would do drug importation from Canada.’ Why our governor hasn't been more vocal and more forceful at holding our president accountable for his promises – or some would argue they've clearly been lies – to say, ‘You said you would do it. Our state wants to do it. Let's make this happen.’

It’s one thing to say it once in a while and then not be vocal about it. It's another to do it as a drumbeat. And I think it would be important to go at this president with a drumbeat and say, ‘It's time to fulfill your promises and allow drug importation so that we can save Vermonters’ money and save Vermonters’ lives, because many can't afford the drugs that they need for their chronic illness.’

You were talking earlier in response to a question about opioid overdoses, about pain management and the role that prescription opioids have played in the opioid epidemic. But I'm curious, when we talk about we need to do these things to change the tide. And one of them is prescribing fewer opioids. That's been in the works for several years and we've seen some success in that.

But when we look at health care and when we look at opioids and when we look at pain management and put those three things all together, you know, where the rubber often meets the road is that opioids as a prescription painkiller could be covered by your insurance. But yoga, meditation, over-the-counter painkillers, some of the other things that are actually proven to be just as good, if not better, and less addictive in many cases than opioids are not covered by insurance.

So it comes to a patient who has unmitigated pain, and finds the only way to actually have it paid for is by getting these opioid prescriptions. In some cases, I realize this is an oversimplification. But what do you do about the fact that some of the other methods, including things like homes that are secure and safe and affordable, are not easily dealt with as just saying, ‘Well, this is already covered by your insurance, if you have good insurance’?

I think those are really good points. We have a lot of alternative health situations that would be less costly and better preventative measures than some of the maintenance drugs that are pharmaceutical and covered by health insurance. I think we have to look at our health system as a whole. Are we a health prevention system or are we a health care and illness care system? And right now, the whole framework is: We work on fixing you after you're sick, after you have a substance abuse disorder, after you get cancer, rather than looking at the front side of how we keep ourselves healthier.

More from VPR: Democratic Gubernatorial Primary Race 2020: David Zuckerman

So I think what you bring up in terms of health care in the form of prevention is critically important. And this goes to: Where do we need to be looking towards the future and where are we going? And how do we get there? Do we want a system where we stay healthier to begin with? Or do you want to keep a system that is all about the expense of fixing us when we're broken? So I think those are all topics that need to be discussed and have been proven, as you said, to reduce costs and keep people healthier.

Public Education And Rural Schools

Dan, caller: One of my main concerns has been the drain of the public tax dollars, which are collected from all of us, that go to the tuitioning towns. It’s not so much the longstanding schools that I'm worried about – it’s the ski academies, the private schools in New Hampshire and Massachusetts and even out-of-state and even out-of-country schools.

Do you have any ideas for reform where we could stop some of that outflow? Because we have rural public schools that are dying on the vine, and ironically, we may be getting new residents from New York or Connecticut coming to live in Vermont, but if they shuttle into certain towns, they can keep sending their kids to private schools out-of-state using our tax dollars.

David Zuckerman: Well, I think it's a really good topic. And I think it's important to point out that our current governor has surrounded himself with private school proponents in his administration and has done one of the most aggressive attack jobs on our public schools, over the last four years, of almost any governor that I can remember. And I've been serving now for 22 years in one capacity or another.

In fact, the NEA just suggested, talking with the administration – who had been saying, ‘We're spending, you know, $23,000 per pupil [enrolled in public school, per year] at some of the highest rates in the country, when in fact our numbers are actually about $18,000 [per pupil per year] – when you look at the dollars that Vermont spends on Vermont students in Vermont schools versus on all the kids, that then go, as you said, to either private institutions or out-of-state.

Unfortunately, I believe there is a recent Supreme Court decision that may greatly hinder our efforts to make that limitation. So I believe we're going to have a more difficult time going in the direction that Dan is calling in for.

But I do think it's important to recognize that Vermont is fourth in the country, according to, I believe, it was U.S. News and World Report with respect to our rural schools and their quality and the work they do for our kids.

And one thing I think we have to do is talk about that. We have to talk about how good our schools are and attract families to all the towns in our state, not as Dan talked about, just to those towns that allow for that kind of school choice, because as we have more families in those communities, our cost per pupil will go down because you do have administrative costs regardless of the size of a school district.

More from VPR: After Win In Primary, Zuckerman Faces Incumbent Battle-Tested By COVID-19

I also think it's important to talk about schools in Act 46 and how, under this governor, the implementation was not as it was intended. We thought when we drafted the law there would be about 30 or 40 – at least 25-to-40 – school districts that were going to qualify for the alternative structures so they could stay open and keep operating. And under this administration, those mergers were forced on many of these small districts and now we're seeing the threat of their schools closing.

And I think to Dan's point, it's really hard to attract families to a town that doesn't have a school. It's really hard to invite families to stay in communities when they feel like their school might be closing when it's the heart of the community. And so I will definitely review some of those aspects of how Act 46 was implemented and how we fund our schools to make sure we don't have schools getting forced to be closed because of administrative finagling or board situations that are weighted based on population, to one big town in a five-or-six-town district. So there's a lot to talk about with public schools.

I'm a strong public school supporter. I think our public schools are really the bedrock of a future of economic justice for families that are sometimes struggling. Their kids get an opportunity at education and opportunity at the future that is brought about by quality public education. And we need to support those opportunities for all of our kids in all of our towns

The Role Of The Lieutenant Governor

Jane Lindholm: Lieutenant Governor Zuckerman, you've expressed frustration and concern that as lieutenant governor, you haven't been included in the governor's meetings and planning around COVID-19.

VPR's Peter Hirschfeld just reported a story where you explained your concerns. Hirschfeld also talked about the governor's position, that he just didn't need you and his administration's position, that you didn't add to creating the right chemistry, the right mix. Hirschfeld also reported Scott’s staff's assertion that if you needed to step in and take over, you would be brought immediately up to speed.

Given your position that the lieutenant governor should be included, especially in pandemic response, where something could happen, but presumably knowing that something could always happen to a governor, and that a lieutenant governor might need to be prepared, would you add the lieutenant governor to your cabinet, as some previous governors have?

Would you commit to including, say, Scott Milne if he were elected lieutenant governor and you were elected governor to your meetings? Would you commit now to saying that is something you would do differently?

David Zuckerman: Well, a couple of things there. I do want to make it clear I do support Molly Gray for lieutenant governor. However, I think it's really important when the voters put in place the governor and lieutenant governor, they have voted for both of those people to represent them across all of state government.

The governor in a recent debate, for instance, said something to the effect of, well, you know, you can get a message out to your people. And I immediately responded, saying ‘What do you mean ‘my people’? As lieutenant governor and as governor, we are elected by all the people of the state of Vermont. And while we might have labels after our names, when we're running for office, when we are serving, our job is to serve all Vermonters.

More from VPR: Scott’s Constitutional Successor And Political Rival Cries Foul Over Gov.’s COVID-19 Planning

And we may not always agree on everything, but we have to be looking out for all Vermonters. We need to be sharing information with all Vermonters. And as lieutenant governor, I have been working hard to rebroadcast the governor's messages and public statements through the lieutenant governor's website and Facebook page, because I think it's important, especially in a pandemic, that anybody who's out there has all the opportunities to learn and hear up-to-date information.

I would invite Scott Milne to participate in cabinet meetings if he wanted to. I know the governor was invited to do that under Shumlin and then eventually chose not to go anymore. I would also invite Scott Milne to say, ‘OK, let's find something – and I'm sure there are many things – that we can agree on and work together on to better state government for Vermonters.’ Whether that’s, as I proposed to our current governor, looking at our Human Services Agency and our Education Agency all the money in those two worlds – in our public schools and human services, two-thirds of our state budget, that goes to helping Vermonters, particularly Vermont children, where those two worlds overlap. Let's roll up our sleeves, talk to frontline social workers in the schools, frontline social workers in the Agency of Human Services, the different silos within the Agency of Human Services, and find ways to deliver those services more efficiently with better outcomes by getting rid of duplication.

I talked to one person who said she had to apply for like nine different programs in state government and fill out nine separate applications. What a waste. What a waste of that person's time and energy when they're struggling. What a waste of government resources reviewing all those applications. Why don't we find a more efficient system?

If Scott Milne is elected and I'm elected, I would ask him if he would want to work on that project with me, the way that the governor chose not to move forward with that idea. To me, good governance is using our dollars efficiently and effectively. And I think there's ways that people of different parties could work together to do that.

My frustration with the governor in the current circumstances is that, it was one thing when economic times were good, when the state had a lot of money. You know, the budgets were much easier to balance than in a difficult time and the governor was given a pretty easy ride for a few years there with the economy doing well. And he chose not to include me.

When he said that to me a month after we were elected, I said, ‘That's your decision. You get to make that decision. I'm disappointed.’

However, with a pandemic, I think it's a very different situation. It is not a situation where generally government hums along, does its business. You have a new governor suddenly and they've got to be brought up to speed with how the DMV works and how AOT works. In the middle of a pandemic, we know that decisions are being made every day to make adjustments for the health and well-being of Vermonters and our safety and our economic situation. There isn't the luxury of two weeks, or a month to be brought up to speed. And what I asked the governor, back many months ago, back in March was: Could I be included in those internal conversations and updates around our health and our economy so that I would be prepared. I offered that I could also bring different ideas. And again, the governor talked about how it wouldn't fit the chemistry.

The governor does a really good job of being the nice guy, while then appointing a number of people to do the attack jobs, which in the story yesterday included Jason Gibbs, with very dismissive comments.

It isn't about the chemistry. A good chemistry means leadership that brings different voices to the table, includes different opinions, different ideas, and then makes a decision. There is nothing about how I would operate within those meetings that would have been disruptive or problematic. But I might have said, ‘Hey, why don't we do something a little quicker on unemployment?’

For instance, I made that comment, publicly, when the unemployment system was failing. And interestingly enough, two days later, the governor implemented what I suggested, which was to get checks out the door to those that weren't [getting] through the system.

Most people just heard him make the announcement and then make the political move of going to the treasurer's office on a Sunday to carry the check to the post office box. I want to call that out as a purely political move that was taking advantage of a pandemic. And that's something that I think needs to be called out.

But frankly, as lieutenant governor, had I been included in those conversations, I would have made that offer as an idea internally. He could have then implemented that idea and it wouldn't have been a political move as it was, but it was reacting to my letter of two days prior.

I hear you and I hear the energy in your voice, too. I mean, it does sound like this is a real frustration for you.

This is about the health of Vermonters. This is our job. This is what people hire us to do. And to say, you know, [it’s about] the chemistry in the room – I have served with the governor as a representative when he was a senator, as a senator, when he was lieutenant governor. We get along perfectly well. He and I are both decent people who get along with many, many folks. I think you could ask anybody in the Statehouse and people around the state. I listen to people and talk with people of all political perspectives and stripes, because if we don't include different perspectives, we're not going to come up with the best ideas.

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And when a pandemic is occurring for the governor to say, ‘We'll bring you in when we need you,’ when the reality is anybody could get sick. The president just got COVID-19. Succession is a key piece. It's one of the three biggest job titles of being lieutenant governor. And so to have a governor that says the Constitution isn't very important, that succession isn't that important, that ‘I shouldn't have him ready’ because of a faux comment about the chemistry or that ‘he's not needed,’ that is a short coming to the people of Vermont. [It’s not] keep[ing] us as well-prepared as we could be in the midst of a pandemic.

On Vaccination And A COVID-19 Vaccine

Cathy, caller: Hi, David. You've been called an "anti-vaxxer". And I'd like to know very specifically if you would endorse a COVID-19 vaccine that's approved by the FDA and all the medical folks in Vermont.

David Zuckerman: I don't know exactly what ‘endorse a vaccine’ means. I mean, the scientists are the ones that will certainly declare whether they are safe and usable after they've gone through the multi-phase trials that they should go through.

I'm completely vaccinated. I just got my flu shot three weeks ago, and I did it publicly and symbolically to say, ‘Folks, it's been clearly signaled by our health experts that the more of us that get flu vaccines will help reduce the number of people that get the kinds of symptoms that might be confused with COVID-19 and that would help our health care system.’

I do support the science behind vaccines. And so, again, I don't what you mean by endorse, but I support the research going into a COVID-19 vaccine. And I support the governor's task force that's looking into who gets it first and how. Because we know we're going to have limited numbers, so let's make sure those who should get it first have access to it, whether it's medical providers, whether it's those with preexisting conditions. But it should be free and available and encouraged.

I also know that the commissioner of health has made it very clear that neither he nor any other major medical providers and professionals are saying that it should be mandatory. They're saying it should not at this point, that we should make sure those who need it have access to it and we're not going to have enough doses. So I do support the science behind vaccines, 100 %.

Jane Lindholm: Not going to have enough doses at the beginning, perhaps.

Right. I mean, maybe there would be a couple of years out. And at that point, we may or may not already have learned that more people got it than we thought and already have antibody capacity in their systems.

You know, the goal of reaching herd immunity is one that's often done through vaccines and vaccinations. And we're learning more and more about this illness, just like hundreds of others that vaccines are available for. But we don't mandate them because we tend to see that the majority of society gets an illness and recovers.

Although it should be said that there's nobody suggesting that Vermont nor the country for that matter, is anywhere near herd immunity.

You're absolutely right. And I didn't mean to suggest that we there would be. But it's going to take a couple of years to clearly have enough vaccine to create herd immunity if it even was mandated. But I would listen to the health experts as we go through this process. And everyone I've heard is saying we wouldn't need to make it mandatory, but we do need to make sure it is utilized and made available to those for whom either their medical profession or their chronic conditions would warrant that they should use it.

This question of your position on vaccines has really dogged you through the campaign. A lot of people sort of tag you as an "anti-vaxer". You have said you are not, that you support the science of vaccines. And yet, looking back in your record, there have been questions about the philosophical exemption and whether that should still apply or not in Vermont. This is an issue that continues to dog you. How do you address that?

I stood up five years ago during that conversation and spoke about those people who have unique genetic responses and have extreme reactions to vaccines and that those individuals ought to have a venue and a path forward where they or their children would have that choice. I lost that vote, as an amendment to require vaccines for going to school by removing the philosophical exemption. I then voted with many of the others who also voted against that amendment. I then voted for the bill and voting for the bill meant removing the philosophical exemption.

And we listened to the tapes. It's very clear. I stood up for the science then and the topic of herd immunity, and I still stand up for that now. But I've always stood up for vulnerable people and I stood up in that moment for vulnerable Vermonters. And I think it's been very misrepresented for political purposes. And now, as you say, it's dogging me.

But I would hope that folks would recognize going forward, I will be tackling the COVID-19 response similarly to this governor with the advice of Dr. Levine. But I will be doing a lot more for Vermonters with a vision for our economy, tackling the climate crisis and building affordable housing for struggling Vermonters.

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Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Emily was a Vermont Edition producer at Vermont Public Radio until September 2021.
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