Editor’s note: Leo Pond is a 14 year old political columnist from Chittenden, Vermont.
Leo Pond: What made you decide to run for governor?
David Zuckerman: As I was contemplating whether to run or not I was really reflecting on the public service person I’ve been for the last 22 years and that I’ve always been engaged in this because I believe that while we are in these positions we can do more to improve people’s lives, protect the environment and help make our state and our communities more fulfilling. Last fall as I was contemplating running or not, I got the news that the climate crisis is yet again more severe and we have a shorter timeline than we even thought. It really spurred me into thinking we need to as a state take more action to tackle the climate crisis and build a new economy in that new frame. Sooner than later and we weren’t seeing that from the current administration and that I was as well positioned to potentially change that as anyone might be. So I decided to step forward and go for it to tackle economic and climate injustice.
LP: In an article published in Politico by Alex Thomson, Holly Otterbein and Alice Miranda Ollstein, they say that you have “proudly fought against government-mandated vaccinations.” How can we trust that you will make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory if you have fought against vaccine mandates for your whole political career?
DZ: That’s a great question but I think it’s a little bit inaccurate, I also introduced a bill in 2006-7 to add a vaccine to the list for HPV. So I hope you’ll reframe the mindset that I have not fought against this my whole career. In fact this was a two-day discussion in 2015 and it was not an anti vaccination position, it was that I stood up for the rights of individuals with extreme genetic reactions to vaccines. I also raised questions, I lost the amendment vote and I voted for the bill. I’ve stated very clearly for many years now, particularly now in the Covid situation, that I will follow the science and listen to the medical experts with respect to how and when a vaccine should be used.
LP: When we get a Covid-19 vaccine will you take it?
DZ: I’ll take it if there are enough for everyone to have them, but if the medical community says that older Vermonters or those who are most vulnerable or kids should get them first. I will take them in the order that those in my age and demographic group ought to.
LP: Locally activists have been calling to defund the police and to use that money for social services. Do you support moving funds away from police departments?
DZ: Well again the term defund police is a bit of a misnomer because it’s not meaning eliminate funding but it does mean reprioritize and some funding towards other ways of de-escalating situations or for preventing situations in the first place. So I do support the idea of really scrutinizing our law enforcement budgets and seeing where we can use those dollars more effectively for public safety by improving people’s lives, by reducing the instances for some of the issues that law enforcement are called to. We need much more help in the mental health arena, when we look at many instances are individuals with mental health or housing needs and the police are called when in fact it should be a different agency and different folks to help put that person back on their feet.
LP: What should the state be doing to help the local businesses that have fallen on hard times because of the coronavirus?
DZ: A couple things. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough money to just throw money at the situation and have that solve the problem. However, the state legislature came up with a great program that I helped them with called Everybody Eats, where we work with the restaurant industry where we put money into restaurants so they can employ their workers, buy food from local farms to make meals for hungry Vermonters. So one of the things we have to do is look at ways we can make each state dollar get spent two or three times in the local economy in order to help churn and build the economy to help our local businesses. Whether that’s restaurants or others. I also think that it’s important, and finally the governor did it, but it took too long to mandate masks so that we could have visitors come, but so we could also make sure our store workers and our store owners can be safer when people came into the stores because wearing masks clearly reduces the spread of the virus. We need to look at all the different state grant programs and get that money out of the door. At one point the governor really pushed the Legislature to hurry and finish the CARES Act money so it could be distributed and now we’re here many, many weeks later and that money still hasn’t all gone out the door. And I am really worried about the fall when the summer construction business is over, when the summer outdoor seating for restaurants is gonna be over. That’s when I think we are gonna see some really struggling businesses, challenged to make it through the winter.
LP: You said that you were for Governor Scott’s mask mandate but what would you have done differently if you were governor?
DZ: What I said was he was very late getting to the mask mandate, I was for the mandate long before he did it. He was very slow in doing a mask mandate when the science and the experts were saying it would clearly reduce the spread of Covid if more people wore masks and it was clear that a mask mandate would increase the rate of participation. Not everyone would wear them, but it would clearly increase the rate.
LP: What is the first thing you want to accomplish when you enter office?
DZ: The first thing is to maintain stability and health for Vermonters through the Covid crisis, second attached to that is really working to rebuild and stimulate the economy including working to infuse money into working class jobs like weatherization and expanding broadband, building affordable housing and investing in our economic infrastructure so that we put people to work and they build the infrastructure for the future economy.
LP: Your campaign has been clear that you are for the $15 minimum wage, why at this point is it needed?
DZ: Well when you look at the number of frontline workers who get minimum wage or close to it who are ineligible to get the CARES A ct essential worker funding we now recognize that having the governor having vetoed the minimum wage increases twice set those people behind economically. Those folks working minimum wage jobs would have $500 to $1,000 more in their pocket today, had the governor not vetoed those bills. It would not be $15 an hour yet, being for $15 an hour would be for the bill that would step up the wage slowly until it got to $15 in a few years.
LP: What are your views on women’s reproductive rights?
DZ: I believe 100% in a woman’s reproductive autonomy herself. I believe that we need good education around caring for our bodies and ourselves but it is between a woman and her partner and her decision with her doctor as to what she chooses to do.
LP: Why do you deserve to be governor as opposed to Phil Scott?
DZ: Well, I think the governor has done a reasonably good job reacting to the challenges that have been put in front of him. At the same time he governed during a strong economy that didn’t really require innovative and creative ideas and we are now in a situation where because of a lack of foresight, the state was not as prepared for the crisis that we’re facing and we need to implement visionary policies around the climate crisis and around economic injustice around affordable housing, our state colleges are in tremendous need of support the governor just proposed a budget that came up far short of what they need. So I think my vision and lens on the future Vermont is a little different and I hope people will consider that.