Vermont Gubernatorial: Zuckerman Takes on Incumbent Scott
With only one day left until the 2020 Vermont gubernatorial election, candidates Phil Scott and David Zuckerman are nearing the end of a long and surprising race. Seeing as there is no term limit for governors in Vermont, Republican Phil Scott will be running for his third term. Zuckerman, former lieutenant governor and organic vegetable farmer, represents the progressive and Democrat parties.
The two candidates share common goals, such as gun control, fighting the global climate change crisis, and easing the fiscal strain on Vermonters caused by the coronavirus pandemic. However, the candidates often clash when it comes to their methods of achieving these goals, most notably on the topic of taxes. Scott vetoed a bill that would raise the statewide minimum wage and promises that taxes on Vermonters will not increase. At the same time, he does not plan on limiting any government spending from the previous year. Seeing as the pandemic has left many unemployed and struggling financially, and thus unable to provide tax revenue that they have in previous years, many question where the money for unchanged government spending will come from. In contrast to Scott’s plan, Zuckerman supports increasing the minimum wage and feels that the only way to accommodate for the predicted low tax revenue would be taking money from the state’s reserve, as well as potentially increasing taxes on the wealthy. He emphasizes that if state spending cuts become necessary, essential services designed to protect citizens will be protected.
The two faced off at the first gubernatorial debate on Thursday, September 24th. Zuckerman criticized Scott for vetoing legislation in 2019 that would implement a 24 hour waiting period when purchasing guns. Zuckerman and many others agree that this waiting period would help decrease the number of suicides in Vermont, which account for 85% of the State’s gun-related deaths. Scott, who has previously passed many restricted gun laws over his gubernatorial career, argues that many deaths by suicide occur with persons who own the gun for some time prior to the suicide.
Zuckerman continued his criticism by asserting that Scott hasn’t done nearly enough to combat the climate change crisis. “This issue has been mounting for years, and there has been inaction at the governor’s level,”source Zuckerman said. Scott has previously stated that he is committed to Vermont’s goal of achieving 90% renewable energy by 2050. He believes Vermont’s biggest issue is carbon emission from vehicles and urges the use of electric cars, having spent a combined $2 million on electric car charging centers and incentives. Most, if not all, of Scott’s plan for the environment deals with the promotion and support of electric vehicles.
Zuckerman supports what he calls the “Green Mountain New Deal,” which involves collecting $100 million in taxes from the top 5% of earners in the state; these funds would finance initiatives to help Vermonters cut down on commuting. Zuckerman also believes that by “working with farmers to build healthy soil for their farms, we will reduce further water quality degradation and create the best chance of mitigating flood impacts by holding phosphorus and other nutrients in the soil and sequestering carbon.”
Scott responded to Zuckerman’s criticisms by pointing out Zuckerman’s apparent disapproval of the Vermont National Guard. Zuckerman has many times apologized for his previous remarks and clarifies his concerns center around the noise and disruption the National Guard imposes on citizens.
Almost immediately afterward, Zuckerman commented on Scott’s failure to increase funding for Vermont’s public colleges, which took a financial hit due to the coronavirus. Scott argued he is working towards these goals but needs approval from the federal government to continue.
To select their new governor, a record number of more than 150,000 Vermont voters requested early or absentee ballots ahead of the primary under a special system set up to encourage safe voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, during the general, which is also shattering early and absentee voting records, Scott is winning in the polls: before the debate, Scott was ahead of Zuckerman by 31 points. This is unsurprising, as 83% of respondents approve of Scott’s leadership during the pandemic, largely due to his quick judgment in shutting down the state mid-March. Even though Scott is a member of the Republican party, 48% of Democrats say they would support Scott, compared to 41% for Zuckerman.
Some 66% of respondents approved of governor Scott’s handling of race issues in Vermont, with 17% disapproving, and another 17% unsure. Scott has shown continued support for the BLM movement, funding efforts to remove anti-BLM graffiti from VT highways. However, Scott has said little about an overall plan to increase equity throughout the state. On the topic of racism and incarceration, Zuckerman plans to shift funding towards measures designed to reduce criminal activity. It is important to note that Vermont has the third-highest rate of incarceration of Black people in America, with one out of every fourteen Black men imprisoned.
Considering the importance of the challenges Vermont is facing and the unexpected circumstances surrounding this year’s election, the VT Gubernatorial election will undoubtedly be a pivotal race in our state’s history.