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Scott And Zuckerman Face Off In First Gubernatorial Debate

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and Gov. Phil Scott during the 2020 gubernatorial debate
Vermont PBS
On Sept. 24, Lt. Gov. and Democratic nominee David Zuckerman and incumbent Gov. Phil Scott faced off in the first gubernatorial debate ahead of the 2020 general election in November, on VPR and Vermont PBS.

The VPR-Vermont PBS 2020 Gubernatorial Debate, held on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, was hosted by Jane Lindholm, and included major party candidates Republican incumbent Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic and Progressive Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. Listen to or watch the full debate here.

On Thursday, Vermont’s two major party candidates for governor met in their first debate on VPR and Vermont PBS.

Both two-term Republican incumbent Gov. Phil Scott and his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, expressed concern about meeting the budget needs of the state in the next fiscal year, but outlined very different ways to meet those needs.

The state is projected to have a revenue shortfall of at least $100 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy.

Gov. Scott ruled out raising any new tax revenue to deal with this shortfall and said the state needs to return to "budget fundamentals" to address the state's spending priorities.

Lt. Gov. Zuckerman argued that this approach would result in serious cuts to important Human Service programs and he said he would support higher tax rates on wealthy people as a way to provide essential revenue to maintain these programs.

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

On the issue of climate change, Gov. Scott reiterated his opposition to legislation that creates a special climate commission to determine how the state will meet new carbon emission reduction standards.

The bill also allows citizens to sue the state if these standards are not met, and calls for a 26% reduction in emissions by 2025 and a 40% reduction by 2030.

Even though Gov. Scott has vetoed this bill, both the House and the Senate have voted to successfully override the governor's veto – the legislation will now become law. 

Gov. Scott said he believes climate change is a real issue and he believes technological advances in battery storage will help the state transition to a more comprehensive electric vehicle future.

Explore the results of the new VPR-Vermont PBS Poll

Lt. Gov. Zuckerman said he supported the Global Warming bill because he says it's critical for state government to finally be held accountable for meeting emission reduction targets.

Both candidates did agree on the need to develop "21st century policing" reforms that would incorporate mental health specialists and community workers into the work of local police departments in order to help defuse potentially violent situations and address the impacts of systemic racism.

- VPR Senior Political Reporter Bob Kinzel

Here's where each candidate said they stand on four key issues
1. Balancing the Budget During (And After) COVID-19

Q: In January, the governor will still be dealing with significant unemployment and an uncertain economic future (including the potential for more shut-downs in hospitality, skiing, schools and businesses as we see what happens with COVID-19). The budget process this summer was aided by a major influx of federal funds that could be used for COVID relief. Given the uncertainty that significantly more federal funds will be forthcoming to states, how are you thinking about balancing the budget without further harming the most vulnerable?

A: Gov. Phil Scott

  • Gov. Scott noted that the budget has been balanced this year without reducing benefits by using surpluses from last year’s budget.
  • He said his strategy for the 2022 fiscal year would be to use the “playbook” for the last few years and not raise taxes.

A: Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman

Listen to Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman's response.

  • Lt. Gov. Zuckerman said it’s important to not cut support and services for the most vulnerable
  • He supports “relying” on wealthy Vermonters – Including those who are moving here from out-of-state – to fund budget shortfalls and taxing and educating new Vermonters to fund vital human services and affordable housing.
  • Lt. Gov. Zuckerman said he wants to make sure that Vermonters are not forced out of the housing market by way of potential cuts Gov. Phil Scott proposed before the surpluses from last year’s budget were found.

2. Criminal Justice Reform And Policing In Vermont

Q: Protesters around the country - and in Vermont - want a change to how police departments are structured, how much money goes to fund them, and what their role is in society, with an aim toward addressing systemic racial inequality in the justice system, and the disproportionate levels of incarceration and deaths of black Americans at the hands of police. 

Even for those who don’t align themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, many believe that changes need to be made to the role police play in our society — especially when it comes to how we deal with people experiencing mental health crises, and in how police officers are trained. What’s your vision for policing in the 21st century?

A: Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman 

Listen to Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman's response.

  • Lt. Gov. Zuckerman said he wants to honor law enforcement and what officers go through on the job, that there should be a  balance between requiring implicit bias and de-escalation training, and respect for law enforcement and supporting communities with public safety.
  • He also said it’s not about reducing the funding for law enforcement, but rather reprioritizing funding for mental health professionals and social workers.    
  • By way of example, he  referenced a recent pilot projectin Franklin and Grand Isle counties and the positive results they saw after embedding mental health professionals in the state police barracks to address public and mental health issues alongside law enforcement , in the field.

A: Gov. Phil Scott

Listen to Gov. Phil Scott's response.

  • Gov. Scott pointed out that it was his budget proposal that included funding for the mental health professionals in the Vermont State Police barracks through a pilot project over the last few years.
  • Gov. Scott said he’s been advocating for implicit bias training throughout the Vermont State Police, and he recently wrote an executive order to address racial justice issues. 

3. Climate Change And The Global Warming Solutions Act

Q: The state legislature has overridden Gov. Scott’s veto of the Global Warming Solutions Act. So the state now has a mandate to aggressively reduce carbon emissions or face legal battles. The way the law is written, the governor and the Legislature have limited say in how the state meets those standards; that power falls to a 23-person panel. But many of the panel’s members are going to be officials in the governor’s administration. So that’s your real influence in shaping our emissions reduction strategy. How will that affect who you choose to have in these key administrative positions?

More from VPR: Unpacking Vermont's Newest Climate Change Legislation

A: Gov. Phil Scott

Listen to Gov. Scott's response.

  • Gov. Scott started his answer by making it clear that he believes bill H.688, known as The Global Warming Solutions Act, which is now law, is unconstitutional. He said he does not agree with the make-up of the climate council– that more checks are needed on the council’s power, as a non-elected body.
  • He said climate change is real and Vermont needs to reduce carbon emissions, but this law is the easy way out. 

A: Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman

Listen to Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman's response.

  • Lt. Gov. Zuckerman started by stating how prominent climate change is and that he’s seeing the effects on his own farm and in Vermonters’ dry wells.
  • He claims Gov. Phil Scott did not follow the recommendations made by  The Vermont Climate Action Commission, to tackle the climate crisis. 
  • Lt. Gov. Zuckerman pointed out that the Attorney General did say the bill was constitutional, and Lt. Gov. Zuckerman believes it will stand up to legal scrutiny. 

4. Gun Regulation

Listener Question: Padma M, an eleventh-grader at Brattleboro Union High School asked:

Q: While background checks are required when purchasing a firearm in the state of Vermont under legislation passed in 2018, this rule does not always apply when a firearm is switching ownership within the direct family. Should background checks be required for the buyer no matter their relation to the seller? Why or why not?

Here’s what Gov. Phil Scott had to say:

Listen to Gov. Phil Scott's response.

Here’s what Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman had to say:

Listen to Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman's response.

Questions about how to vote in the upcoming general election? We’ve got answers, here.

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

We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
Emily was a Vermont Edition producer at Vermont Public Radio until September 2021.
Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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