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Brenda Siegel on her win in the uncontested Democratic primary for governor and taking on Gov. Scott in the fall

A woman wearing glasses stands outside with people in the background with buttons reading safe staffing quality care and your vote is your voice
Shirley Plucinski, Courtesy
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Brenda Siegel won an uncontested primary this week to become the Democratic nominee for governor in Vermont's general election this November.

Brenda Siegel is a southern Vermont activist who's made a name for herself both in her runs for office, and her anti-poverty campaigns.

This week, she won an uncontested primary race to be the Democratic nominee for governor this fall.

She speaks with Vermont Edition co-host Connor Cyrus about her bid for office, and taking on a popular incumbent like Gov. Phil Scott.

Find the full 2022 Vermont Primary Election results here.

Our guest is:

  • Brenda Siegel, the Democratic nominee for governor in the November general election

Broadcast at noon on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Connor Cyrus: Can you explain what campaigning in an uncontested primary was like? Do you feel that the voters are engaging with you and your ultimate goal of the general election?

Brenda Siegel: Well, you know, editorial decisions were made by media to not cover our race during the primaries. And unfortunately, that impacts how much voters get to engage. And I think it's a real disservice to Vermonters.

On the other hand, we have been able to really gain momentum, despite that, across the state of Vermont. We've done that throughout out-raising the Republican incumbent. We've been able to engage with community members across the state. We've been able to bring more people on board into the Democratic ticket, including folks that were on the fence in the past, and we'll be able to bring more throughout.

So, while we had to forge our own path, it's not the first time I've had to do that, and we've been able to make real waves.

Now, before we talk about the future, I do want to talk about the past a little bit. You did lose the Democratic primary in 2018 for the job as governor, and you also lost your bid in 2020 to be lieutenant governor. You’re seeking to be governor once again. How have you grown, and what have you learned during these past years?

Well, I just want to name that I am a low-income single mom. When I came onto the scene, really crashed onto the scene in 2018, I was able to get nearly a quarter of the vote in a four-way race in three months with no name recognition and no access to money. I consider that a win.

I have been able to make major changes in our state, including access to buprenorphine, a lifesaving medication for people with opioid use disorder. I have been able to ensure that our community members and neighbors were safely sheltered this past winter when the governor was ready to leave people on the street. And what I know is that Vermonters are ready to have the problems and issues they are facing in their communities solved. And those are the exact issues that I've been working on every single day.

"I have been able to make major changes in our state, including access to buprenorphine, a lifesaving medication for people with opioid use disorder. I have been able to ensure that our community members and neighbors were safely sheltered this past winter when the governor was ready to leave people on the street."
Brenda Siegel, Democratic nominee for governor

For people who don't know you and aren't familiar with who you are and your platform, could you give us an elevator pitch of why you are running to be governor.

Sure. The issues that I work on are drug policy and working on the housing crisis, the housing shortage, and I've been doing that the last many years.

And I watch and speak to everyday Vermonters whether they are low-income, whether they're middle-income, who are struggling, and they need us to do more.

I watch our Legislature do the right thing and send good bills to the governor's desk, and those bills get vetoed. When we're talking about the housing crisis, those bills have to be shaved down if they're going to get signed, and any kind of renter protections, any kind of consumer regulations get shot down.

When we're talking about the overdose crisis, the most comprehensive bills on the overdose crisis, make it to the governor's desk and get vetoed. While we're talking about a governor that's presided over the most deaths in the history of our state.

When we're talking about climate change — if you are someone who really supports moving forward and bold climate action — the climate bills get to the governor's desk and get vetoed.

If we want to make progress on the issues that time and time again Vermonters say are most important to them then we have to change who signs or vetoes those bills.

As an activist, one of the groups of people you've advocated for are people who are experiencing homelessness. In fact, you spent 27 nights last fall sleeping on the Statehouse steps, convincing the governor to fully reinstate the General Assistance Program. Was that kind of advocacy effective, and if so, how will your advocacy change as governor?

Sure. So yes. I think it's important to note that before I went onto the steps, we spent nearly eight months working with the administration, working with our legislators trying to find a path to fully expand the program that emergency housed people experiencing homelessness.

Multiple times we succeeded in making sure that not more people were exited. However, we got to October and there were over 2,000 people on the street who were at risk of freezing to death, and we did not have any tools left.

So, I stood on the Statehouse steps from Oct. 14 and said that I would not leave until the governor fully reinstated that program. It did take 27 nights. I had no idea how quickly my body and mind would begin to decline in sleeping on the cold hard ground. I did not know what that experience was and up until that 28th day, people thought that we could not win. And yet we won.

More from Vermont Public: Reporter debrief: Why the Scott administration reversed course, agreed to emergency motel housing through March 1

So, was it effective? Absolutely. And, you know, the work that I've done in advocacy has really been supporting and working with legislators to introduce legislation, testifying, making sure that we are introducing plans and moving forward on different issues. That advocacy translates directly into the governor's office because we can put those plans into action.

I already have collaboration with legislators across our state. And so, coming to the table and working together will be a really easy and natural transition.

Drug policy reform, pro-housing for everyone and anti-poverty are all things you advocate for. What do policy reforms like these look like under Gov. Siegel.

So, I'm going to start with substance use disorder. As many people know, in March of 2018, my nephew Kaya Siegel died of an overdose, and he was a son of my brother who died just over 20 years before him also, while using heroin.

What I know is that with 20 years between them, there still weren't the supports in place to help them and make sure they could survive.

And we need to focus on harm reduction first, treatment and recovery on demand, including medically-assisted treatment on demand, dual diagnosis support and criminal justice reform — all of which has been stopped or paused under the Scott administration. The Siegel administration will be moving forward to ensure that we are healing the overdose crisis.

How do you plan to do that? If you can't get the support of the Legislature, would that be by executive action?

Well, we already have the support of the Legislature. The Legislature passed a bill and sent it to the governor's desk last year. And the legislators coming in, I'm confident will also do that.

We also introduced a bill that reflected the plan that I released in 2018, and we’ll update that during the cycle, and it was introduced into the Senate last year and will be reintroduced this year. So, we already have the legislative support on these issues. So, I'm not concerned of that.

We right now have a governor that's governing by veto, and that's not coming to the table. We don't need another governor that doesn't come to the table and takes their actions unilaterally. We need one who's able to collaborate with the Legislature as a whole and make sure that we are moving forward in a way that best reflects the will of the voters who sent all of us to Montpelier.

"We right now have a governor that's governing by veto, and that's not coming to the table. We don't need another governor that doesn't come to the table and takes their actions unilaterally. We need one who's able to collaborate with the Legislature as a whole and make sure that we are moving forward in a way that best reflects the will of the voters who sent all of us to Montpelier."
Brenda Siegel, Democratic nominee for governor

On housing, we need a plan that — and I've released one, and we'll update it during the cycle as well — that works, that ensures emergency, transitional and permanent housing.

Right now, we have no plan for any of those. We have thrown some money at the issue. But we don't have a long-term plan that assures that we meet need, with triggers in place in case we end up having a housing shortage again. So, the long-term economic trajectory of not solving this housing crisis is very poor for our state. It's bad for business, and it's bad for people.

And in terms of anti-poverty, I really think that comes into building a bottom-up economy and making sure that we take bold climate action.

Now in speaking with voters on Election Day, we noticed some common themes motivating them to cast a ballot, one of which was climate change. I'll ask you to be as specific as possible. How would Gov. Brenda Siegel differ from Gov. Phil Scott when it comes to climate change in Vermont?

We absolutely must transition to more in-state renewable energy. Right now, the majority of our energy comes from out of state, and the risk of that is that the long-term economic impact on Vermonters is high as soon as the contracts that get that energy run out. And so that means that we are in a critical moment when we must do that.

More from Vermont Public: How Vermont is — and isn’t — on track to reduce its share of climate-warming emissions

In addition, we aren't going to solve this problem one electric vehicle at a time. That means that we need to increase our public transportation options, which both helps our aging Vermonters and low-income communities. And we need to make sure that low- and moderate-income people can access electric vehicles.

We can't forget that we need to both support our small farms and transitioning to carbon sequestration and require our large farms to do the same. We mustn't let our small businesses and our small farms bear the burden while we allow our larger businesses and larger farms to really reap the benefit of not making this transition.

You've been endorsed by the Sierra Club Vermont, Vermont Conservation Voters, and by leadership in the Vermont House and Senate. But Gov. Phil Scott has a very high approval rating among voters. What do you think you need to beat him this fall? And is it about campaign funding or more endorsements?

You know, I don't think it's any one thing. I think that we have to work together to go around the state and listen to Vermonters and share with Vermonters our vision and our plan. And let folks know that in a Siegel administration, there is a place for everyone.

I have been doing the work for many years across the state, and it has not been … none of these issues are partisan issues. The housing crisis is not a partisan issue. The overdose crisis is not a partisan issue. Climate change is not a partisan issue. These are issues that are impacting every Vermonter every day, and these are where we see those vetoes This is where progress is stopped. And I think that we owe it to Vermonters to ensure that we move forward on these issues, that we make our communities safer, and we stop burying our children.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

Connor Cyrus joined Vermont Public as host and senior producer in March 2021. He was a morning reporter at WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island. A graduate of Lyndon State College (now Northern Vermont University), he started his reporting career as an intern at WPTZ, later working for WAGM in Presque Isle, Maine, and WCAX Channel 3, where he covered a broad range of stories from Vermont’s dairy industry to the nurses’ strikes at UVM Medical Center. He’s passionate about journalism’s ability to shed light on complex or difficult topics, as well as giving voice to underrepresented communities.
Originally from Delaware, Matt moved to Alaska in 2010 for his first job in radio. He spent five years working as a radio and television reporter, radio producer, talk show host, and news director. His reporting received awards from the Alaska Press Club and the Alaska Broadcasters Association. Relocating to southwest Florida, he was a producer for television news and NPR member station WGCU for their daily radio show, Gulf Coast Live. He joined Vermont Public in October 2017 as producer of Vermont Edition.