Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman Wins The Democratic Nomination For Governor
Last night Lieutenant Gov. David Zuckerman won the Democratic primary for governor, defeating three other candidates for the nomination. In the General Election in November, he’ll be facing sitting Gov. Phil Scott, who won the GOP nomination yesterday.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman on Wednesday, Aug. 12, and their interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
For real-time updates throughout the day regarding Vermont’s 2020 Primary, head here.
Mitch Wertlieb: So tell me: now that you are going to be running for governor, what is the signature issue, if you have to pick one, that sort of defines you and your candidacy, and is the best reason that you feel Vermonters should support you for governor?
Well, I think it's around the economic recovery of the state of Vermont, and it’s ideas for rebuilding our future so that nobody's left behind.
Gov. Scott, of course has won wide approval for how he's responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and I know that you said this is not the only issue on Vermonters minds.
But in the VPR-Vermont PBS poll taken recently, 83% of respondents said they approved of Scott's leadership during this pandemic. Numbers like that, you know, they're not just good; they're almost unheard of. How do you plan on running against an incumbent with that level of public support?
Again, the public support is about his handling of COVID – which has done very well. But that is not a conversation about the whole job of being governor. He's proposed budget cuts across the board of 8%. We'll see if that continues in the August budget request that he put in. That means a couple-thousand teacher cuts, quite possibly. That means Human Services cuts when people are struggling here in Vermont. There's a very different vision about how to get out of this economic circumstance.
And of course I'll be looking to both [Health Commissioner] Dr. [Mark] Levine and other medical experts for continuing to have a really good policy to keep Vermonters safe and I'll be talking with Vermonters to keep Vermonters safe and healthy. But there is more than COVID. There's COVID, and not just COVID, and we will be discussing those issues. If he hadn't vetoed the minimum wage, all the essential workers in Vermont that couldn't get essential worker pay would have more money in their pocket right now. That's a real issue. If we had paid family leave, a lot of people wouldn't have been caught up for a month without unemployment benefits. That's a big issue.
Those are big issues. I do have to ask another COVID related question though, because we're running news stories today about Gov. Scott's comments about how he wants in-person learning for school kids in Vermont starting in the fall. He's also admitted that he expects to see some COVID cases come from that. Do you agree with Gov. Scott's decision to send kids back to school for some in-person learning in the fall?
Well, we all want in person learning in an ideal world, we would have five days a week in person learning and wouldn't be in the circumstances we're in. But we definitely need far greater guidance from the administration for schools around how to handle this massive infectious disease in our school settings. Neither teachers or principals or superintendents are trained in how to deal with this, and I think too little guidance has been given to our administrators and teachers. I think we have to make sure it's safety first. And then we could possibly open and/or make this work. But there has not been a guidance necessary. And yes: we all want that. But we're seeing in other states, as soon as people are in closer contact, in indoor settings like schools, they're seeing cases spike.
If you were governor now, and this was your decision to make, would you be opening up schools for some in-person learning come fall?
Well, right now, I think it's dangerous to do so. I've heard from a lot of teachers who are concerned and I think we needed better planning to give them the opportunity to do that. And I would say: probably not – until we have better, clearer guidance for instructors. I’d also want us to make sure we could see for a couple extra weeks what's happening elsewhere.
If we were creative in a solution, we would have been working since May or June at the administration level, to say how can we do creative outdoor learning, at least for the month of September until we have to get indoors? We would have been preparing our schools with touchless utilities so that folks wouldn't be handling the same faucets all day. We'd be talking to our custodians about that. We would have put Vermonters to work in those schools on HVAC systems to make sure there was better air circulation. So, you need more forward thinking in the midst of this kind of situation, to make sure the schools would have been better prepared for the fall.
David Zuckerman, I imagine that when you decided to run for governor, it was not during all this tumult. So much has happened in such a short amount of time. This is going to be an unusual election even at a national level, with the pandemic. There are also the protests continuing against racism and police brutality around the country. An enormously controversial incumbent president is on the ticket. How do you see all of this affecting the governor's race here in Vermont, if at all?
I think it's going to affect it in every which direction, which is why I think it's very unpredictable as to what the outcome could be. I still think there's a solid opportunity to win. Granted, it's definitely an uphill battle, but the energy that came out yesterday... We had, I think, close to 165,000 people vote, when you include all three of the major party ballots that were counted last night. That is a 40,000-plus increase over 2016.
People are going to vote this fall. They're very scared and concerned about our health, our economy, where we are going. And with new leadership and clarity about where we're going: building our rural economy, investing in broadband, investing in affordable housing, making sure the new folks that are going to move here also pay their fair share into the system so that we have the resources we need to build our way out of this. You don't recover from this kind of economic downturn with an austerity budget. And I think that's gonna be a big piece of the debate this fall.
You won the Democratic nomination to be governor. The progressives in Vermont also wanted you to win. In fact, they told people to write in your name on the progressive ticket. And yet, among Democrats and democratic leaning voters again, Gov. Scott's approval rating is sky high. What is your message specifically to those Democrats and progressives who have supported you so well in the past, who also have that support for Gov. Scott? How do you change their mindset and say "Hey, I need your support now, even though you have this support for Gov. Scott"?
Well, what I've seen is approval of his handling of COVID. I hadn't seen numbers about his straight-up approval being quite as high as the approval on his handling of COVID. But ultimately, folks are going to have to make a choice. Unlike in 2018, when he hadn't vetoed many issues that are important to traditional Democrats like minimum wage and making sure everyone who works hard deserves a fair wage for their work so that they're not struggling to get by and on the edge of economic disaster when such a thing as the COVID crisis or an economic downturn [occurs]. A lot of those folks are really concerned that paid family leave got vetoed by the governor. That's very much a Democratic leadership issue, with respect to families getting to have more time with their children when they're born or their parents when they're sick.
Many, many Democrats are concerned about the climate crisis. The governor has spoken well about that relative to the President, but he hasn't really implemented much in the way of policy to tackle that. And I think that's related to our rural economy. [We need to be] investing in regenerative agriculture and really helping farmers shift some of their practices to sequester carbon and get paid better for their work.
These are the kinds of creative ideas that Vermonters are looking forward to, and they have only seen him coast along when the economy was good. That was easier. He did a great job when the economy was good, and the unemployment rate was down. That was a national reality. That was not due to any policies that he implemented here at the state level, and now it's a different story. What are his creative ideas? How is he going to do something about the future? Because it's not just about reacting to COVID. It's about getting us back on track.
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