By Mark Johnson, VTDigger.org
The Republican candidates for governor differed in their support for their party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, while the three Democratic candidates were unified behind Bernie Sanders.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott rejected any idea of voting for Trump, while businessman Bruce Lisman said he would wait and see how Trump conducted himself before deciding how he would vote. Lisman called many of Trump’s comments offensive, but also mentioned party unity.
The forum, held Friday, May 13 in Burlington, included discussion on universal background checks for gun ownership and the state’s troubled health care website. The five candidates spent a big chunk of the hour-plus debate discussing ways to jumpstart the economy. They broke little new ground and outlined broad themes.
Lisman supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich, as did Scott, who briefly supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. With Kasich out, Scott says he’ll write in former Gov. Jim Douglas. Lisman says he has not decided, noting Trump won the Vermont primary convincingly.
“Simply saying I don’t like him for all that he’s said would certainly make those who voted for him wonder what we are thinking about,” Lisman said. “On the other hand, he has said some really offensive things in the most amazingly offensive ways,” and recently backtracked on earlier positions.
Democrat Matt Dunne touted his early support of Sanders while another Democrat, former state Sen. Peter Galbraith, said his campaign themes were similar to Sanders’ — raising the minimum wage, universal health care and removing corporate money from politics. The third Democrat, Sue Minter, praised Sanders for “spreading Vermont values to the rest of the country.”
On job growth, Minter, the former transportation secretary, hailed how public investments can leverage private resources, noting the successful revitalization of downtown Barre. She also said the high cost of public education could not be reduced until health care premiums stopped rising so quickly.
All five agreed that job-growth efforts should focus on expanding existing small businesses or trying to lure entrepreneurs, not, as Dunne put it, “trying to harpoon” a large company to move to Vermont.
Scott said the economy would grow if more people lived in Vermont and said he hoped to the see the population grow to 700,000 in the next 10 to 15 years. The current population is 626,000.
He also took a shot at the Legislature, saying more than 1,200 bills were introduced in the past biennium, but only 30 would have produced economic growth and that only three of those bills passed.
Galbraith, who served in the Vermont Senate from 2010 to 2014, derided economic incentives and tax breaks given to corporations to stay in Vermont, noting the small amounts Vermont had offered were dwarfed by the revenues of the large companies that received them, like Globalfoundries. On education funding, Galbraith noted the schools were vastly superior than 40 years ago and that the amount spent on education as a percentage of the state’s gross domestic product was the same now as back then, about 5 percent.
Dunne, a former Google executive, said education taxes should be paid based on one’s income and not on the value of homes. He called for a reduction in superintendents and for consolidating systems like payroll to produce savings.
Lisman and Scott said they would not support changing gun laws. All three Democrats said they supported universal background checks on all gun purchases. Dunne said the heroin epidemic has led to violence and Vermont needs to “take steps we might not have taken before,” including a crackdown on “straw purchases” where a gun is purchased and then transferred to someone not legally allowed to purchase or own one.
On Vermont Health Connect, Lisman continued his call to move to the federal exchange. Scott said Vermont should pool its efforts with other New England states. Minter said she welcomed a planned study “to see what’s under the hood” before deciding whether or not to ditch the exchange and consider other options. Dunne and Galbraith both said they would push for universal health care coverage.
In the meantime, Dunne said, “we need to fix the damn website.”