Democratic Gubernatorial Primary Race 2020: David Zuckerman
Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman is one of four candidates running in the Democratic primary for governor. He's also been endorsed by the Progressive Party. Zuckerman was elected L governor in 2016. Before that, he served in the Vermont Senate and House for a total of 18 years. He’s also the owner of an organic farm in Hinesburg.
VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, and their interview below has been condensed and edited for clarity. VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates for governor.
In response to a question about why Vermont should turn to new leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zuckerman drew a contrast between his vision for state government, and that of Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman: We actually need to look to those who have resources, and invest in our economy. We need to invest in affordable housing, which would put people to work building housing. We need to invest in weatherization, which would put people to work weatherizing homes and installing solar panels on people's homes, and really focus that on seniors' homes and working class people's homes, so that those that are struggling can actually lower their bills.
So there's the contrast: someone who's going to rule through austerity, which I think is leading - would lead - to [cuts to] thousands of teachers jobs, thousands of health care and human services jobs and fewer projects led by the state, which has fewer jobs in construction, or someone is going to lead with investment.
Henry Epp: So the implication there, though, is that that money for investment from the government needs to come from somewhere. So would that mean higher taxes for certain Vermonters?
So there's two pieces to this. One, the governor right now at his press conferences is talking about all the money that he's giving out. We have to remember, that's federal government money and it's actually been allocated for these purposes by the legislature, who was willing to fund things that the governor wasn't, like our state colleges. It's great that he's giving out that money, but it's not enough.
Now, two things are going to be true in January, I suspect. One, is that by then, the federal government will have passed a municipal and state support measure. The second is looking at the Green Mountain New Deal, and the Trump tax cuts, which primarily benefited the wealthiest Vermonters. If we were to do a temporary marginal tax on just the wealthiest Vermonters to generate between $50 and $125 million a year, to put into affordable housing, to put into broadband, to put into weatherization, that is something that we should do. And I think wealthy Vermonters are prepared to do that, recognizing just like with health care and wearing masks, contributing to the society right now is the best way to get the whole system back up and running.
You've been questioned in the past about your views on vaccines. You voted against the elimination of the state's philosophical exemption for vaccines when you were in the Senate back in 2015. If you were elected governor and a COVID-19 vaccine became available, could Vermonters expect you to do everything in your power to make sure that as many residents as possible get that vaccine?
Well, first, let me set the record straight. I voted against the amendment around removing the philosophical exemption, because I was concerned about individuals who do have allergic reactions. But I lost that vote, along with one third of the Senate, by the way, and then I voted for the bill. So I think it's important for those that have heard the less than accurate description of my position on vaccines from one of my opponents, to really understand that it's a complex and nuanced conversation.
Now, when the vaccine does come out, I will certainly support the medical world's recommendations. It may be that we have limited numbers of vaccines, in which case I suspect they will recommend seniors and those who have preexisting challenging medical conditions get it first. So I will follow whatever direction the medical community advises as we move forward. If it's recommended that it be mandatory, I would recommend it be mandatory as well.
OK. Would you yourself take it?
It depends what they suggest. I'm 48. As governor next year, I'll be 49. So if I'm in the age group or in the situation that they recommend, then yes I will. If there's others for whom it is more important that they get it than me, I would make sure they get it before I get it.
I want to turn to another issue. There've been increasing calls for police reform here in Vermont since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis back in May. Some activists are calling for decreasing police budgets and reallocating those funds to social services. Do you support moving funds away from police departments? What folks have been calling defunding the police?
Well, exactly. It's important to define defunding and it doesn't mean eliminate funding at all. So we need to shift our funding, as actually the Reverend Al Sharpton has talked about in terms of his definition of defunding the police, to one where we do shift some percentage, it might be 10, might be 30, depends district by district. And to make sure we have coverage of law enforcement around the state, it may not be as much as some people want. But we do need to shift some funding more towards the effective policies that actually reduce criminal activity in the first place, rather than being a reactive society, which again, is going to be one of the differences between me and our governor.
You are a farmer. You've been the owner of Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg for a number of years. You've continued to operate that while serving as lieutenant governor. Gov. Phil Scott sold his stake in a construction company after he won the governor's seat a few years ago. Will you divest or sell your farm if you're elected governor?
Well first I want to say, while I, quote, "have been running the farm while I've been lieutenant governor," I think a lot of credit has to be given to my spouse and our amazing crew, who do the vast amount of the work these days. The other difference between the governor's situation and mine is that his business had a lot of state contracts. Now there's a difference when you're governor and you're overseeing multi-million-dollar state contracts to construction companies, versus a farm that is independent of any government contracts or government arrangements.
But have you received government grants or funding for the farm over the years?
We have never applied for Working Lands grants. There are a couple of small federal programs that go to every farm that applies, that keeps our land open for food production. And I have gotten support from the federal government for building high tunnels to season extend and produce more food, just as every other farm has the opportunity to do. But it is not a competitive grant situation like it is in a private construction business.
But I've also not applied for many state programs that are available to farms, because I didn't want there to be any chance of there being a conflict of interest, much less an appearance of conflict of interest. So, no, I have not taken state money for our farm.
But back to the question, I mean, would you consider divesting from the farm or otherwise removing yourself from the financial stake in it?
Well, more likely than anything is I wouldn't be farming, because the job of governor would be taking all my time. As I said at the beginning, as lieutenant governor, I already do far less work. But no, I don't see why anybody running for governor who has a small, independent business should have to divest themselves from the business because honestly, governor is only a two-year job as far as the guarantee. And to stop farming for the job of being governor for two or four years, to restart the farm would be tremendously difficult. Now, we may stop farming just because of the practical reality of not having the time, but I won't stop farming or distance myself from the farm for political reasons. It's much more if we stop, it would be because of practical reasons.
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We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.Vermont’s primary election is on Aug. 11, so VPR is reaching out to candidates in contested races for governor, lieutenant governor and the U.S. House to find out why they're seeking to serve, and where they stand on the issues of the day. Find our full coverage here.