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When It Comes To Money, Hallquist, Ehlers Highlight The Range Of Democratic Philosophies

courtesy, Brenda Patoine; courtesy, Christine for Vermont
James Ehlers, left, and Christine Hallquist, right, are two of the three candidates who have declared they'll be in the race for the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2018.

Two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for governor are carving out some early distinctions in their approaches to campaign finance, and fiscal oversight of state government.

Audio for this story will be posted.

Longtime Vermont utility executive Christine Hallquist and environmental advocate James Ehlers both hope to unseat first-term Republican incumbent Gov. Phil Scott in November, but only one will carry the Democratic Party’s banner into the 2018 general election campaign.

Ethan Sonneborn, a 13-year-old from Bristol, has also registered as a Democratic candidate in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

On campaign finance...

After floating the prospect of a gubernatorial bid last month, Hallquist says the response was overwhelmingly positive.

“There seems to be some name recognition and respect for what I’ve done and who I am,” Hallquist says.

So, Hallquist has tendered her resignation as CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative, and launched her first run for political office.

If elected, Hallquist would be Vermont’s second female governor. She’d also be the first openly transgender governor in U.S. history. But Hallquist, who went through a very public gender transition in 2015, says she wants her economic agenda to define her as a candidate.

“I have a strong history with rural development, and I’m the person that can get fiber to every home and business in the state,” Hallquist says.

"I'll be spending a lot of time personally doing fundraising ... tapping some of the high-value donors initially with personal calls." — Christine Hallquist

Hallquist says rural Vermont won’t be able to realize its economic potential until it has those high-speed internet services in place. And Hallquist says she’ll approach the challenge in much the same way former Vermont governor and Sen. George Aiken approached rural electrification.

“His role was to bring electricity to rural America," she says. "My role is to bring fiber to rural Vermont. And it’s a model that works, and it’s a model we can replicate here in Vermont. And I’m a utility manager and I know how to do it.”

For now though, Hallquist says she’s focused on amassing the campaign war chest needed to knock off a popular first-term incumbent. Hallquist says she aims to raise $2.5 million before the cycle is over.

“So I’ll be spending a lot of time personally doing fundraising — tapping some of the high-value donors initially with personal calls,” Hallquist says.

Hallquist's opponent in the Democratic primary says he takes a very different approach to the issue of campaign finance.

Ehlers, who announced his candidacy last year, is the executive director of Lake Champlain International, an organization that advocates for water quality.

"If there's one thing that I hope to accomplish in winning, it's that we can win without money." — James Ehlers

“If there’s one thing that I hope to accomplish in winning, it’s that we can win without money,” Ehlers says. “We’re focused on the votes.”

Ehlers says he’s so uninterested in the issue of money that he can’t say how much of it he’s raised so far.

“I don’t know. My campaign manager keeps track of that. I don’t want to know,” Ehlers says.

On state spending...

The issue of campaign finance isn’t the only early distinction between the two candidates.

Hallquist describes herself as a “fiscal conservative.” And as governor, she says she’d consider new revenue increases only as a last resort. Hallquist says she’s open to changing the way Vermont distributes government money.

“But at the same time I don’t think we should be spending more money. That’s not the way to go. So reform is good, spending more money is not,” Hallquist says.

Ehlers, meanwhile, openly supports tax increases on wealthier residents. And he says issues like clean water funding, and strengthening the social safety net, can’t be solved without increased public investments.

“This no-new-taxes rhetoric just means shifting the burden down to the local level,” Ehlers says.

Correction 11:59 a.m. A previous version of this post's headline misspelled Ehlers. It has been corrected.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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