Gubernatorial candidates debate ethics, taxes, affordable housing and more

RUTLAND — In a 90-minute-long forum Wednesday night at the historic Paramount Theater, Repubilcan Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist debated taxes, ethics, schools, housing and more.

The lengthy format permitted the candidates to provide 90-second answers, and 16-second rebuttals, to a variety of policy-related questions posed by the moderator.

But before things got going, a member of the audience stood up and began making a boisterous opening remark of his own. Charles Laramie, an independent candidate for governor from Fair Haven, who was not invited to appear onstage, interrupted debate moderator Mark Johnson by shouting a long statement.

“I served in the Navy and the Air Force, I swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the very rights that I swore to defend … I am being denied … by those two candidates, VTDigger, Anne Galloway and the sponsors here tonight. I ask you one more time to … stand down so we’re all allowed to debate,” he said.

RELATED: Fed-up former teacher Charles Laramie enters Vermont gubernatorial race

Johnson allowed Laramie to vent for a few moments, then said, “Thank you, sir. … You had your say. You’re taking time away from the candidates.”

Lou Varricchio/TNR

Christine Hallquist and Gov. Phil Scott met Wednesday to debate the future direction of Vermont.

Johnson’s first question of the night appeared crafted to put Scott on the defensive. He said the Vermont State Ethics Commission found him in violation of the code of ethics for his continued role in funding DuBois Construction, his former company, which he left to avoid any conflict of interest.

Scott answered that the issue is old news, and that he willingly sold his share of the business to be governor two years ago. He said he has continued to help fund the company, however, to keep it in operation.

“I can’t go back … and violate the contract and tell DuBois Construction that they can’t do state work,” he said, adding that he has “no connection with the company” and is “just the bank.”

The next question, directed to Hallquist, asked if a political novice has what it takes to be an effective governor without some prior experience in state government. Hallquist, formerly known as Dave Hallquist, was the longtime CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative.

“I’ve had a long history of leadership that didn’t start with the Vermont Electric Cooperative,” Hallquist said. “ … I have a long history of collaborative leadership and have done some pretty impressive things. … I served on my local school board, mental health board, and served as town moderator. I do believe my experience qualifies me.”

Hallquist said that she voted for Phil Scott in 2016 but grew disappointed with the governor’s performance in office.

“When Phil talks about taking care of the most vulnerable and then vetoes a minimum wage bill, vetoes a family leave bill, and vetoes a bill that makes polluters pay, I question what affordability means. It certainly isn’t affordability on the lowest part of the income level,” she said.

Scott jumped in with a bit of humor before the moderator was able to pose another question: “I want to make something perfectly clear — I’ve never voted for Christine.”

Throughout the evening, the candidates differed on many issues, including the raising of the minimum wage.

“Working class Americans haven’t seen any real wage growth since the ’80s,” Hallquist said. “If this was adjusted for inflation (since the late ‘60s) it would be $22 an hour. … People aren’t making a living wage, working two or three jobs.”

She said this problem started with “Ronald Reagan and the myth of trickle down (economics)” and with “attacks on the unions.” She argued that the state could grow its economy by connecting every home with fiber-optic internet cables and rebuilding downtown areas.

Scott replied that raising the minimum wage is a knee-jerk reaction that only raises the cost of living throughout. Chittenden County is doing pretty well, but the other 13 counties are struggling, he said.

“Think about the (Vermonters struggling along the) Connecticut River. In New Hampshire there’s no sales tax, no income tax, with a minimum wage of $7.25. … (And) we have been increasing the burden on Vermonters throughout the years. That’s why we didn’t raise a single tax or fees — to give Vermonters a break.”

Scott said that he concept of “supply and demand” in the marketplace works when it comes to wages. He noted that employer UTC Aerospace in Vergennes has 150 jobs for engineers, paying salaries of $100,000 per year.

“There are jobs available, but we don’t have enough workers for the jobs we have here. The wage will go up by supply and demand,” Scott said.

Both candidates addressed what debate-moderator Johnson claimed was the No. 1 issue of Vermont’s rural residents: affordable housing. Each candidate acknowledged a need for more investments in the housing sector.

“In my first year, we made investments … we passed a $35 million affordable housing bond,” Scott said. “It’s going to leverage $85 million in private investments over time, the largest investment Vermont has ever seen. We’ve increased jobs by 4,000 and we’ll need housing for workers.”

Hallquist responded, saying it costs $250,000 to build a two-bedroom unit in Vermont, that to afford it you have to make $22 an hour.

“Our real earning power hasn’t gone up,” she said. ” … We have to help out by subsidizing. That $35 million bond is only 10 percent of what we need.”

The candidates sparred over other topics such as wind towers along Vermont ridge lines, with Scott opposing them and Hallquist supporting more turbines — but with better sensitivity to local residents. They also addressed the opioid crisis, a carbon tax and school district consolidation under Act 46, the state’s education governance law.

Regarding Act 46, Hallquist supports keeping small schools open. But Scott pointed out that Rochester High School was kept open with only two students enrolled, and was an example of the problem with refusing to close any schools.

The governor said while he doesn’t like “forced” school consolidation, the state has to address declining student enrollment. Vermont’s student population has dropped by roughly 21,000 since 1997.

“The Democrats passed Act 46,” Scott said. “It wasn’t my idea, but at least they tried to consolidate school governance. Rochester High School got down to those two students in the whole school before it was closed down. That’s not the way to go. That’s why we have to do something … we need to invest more earlier in a child’s life.”

While the candidates agreed on many of the state’s pressing problems, their solutions were widely disparate, with Hallquist looking for more government involvement and Scott arguing for more private and individual initiative.

Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at lvinvt@gmx.com.

Image courtesy of PEG TV

8 thoughts on “Gubernatorial candidates debate ethics, taxes, affordable housing and more

  1. Hallquist is beholden to the Dem/Prog socialist, government activist policies
    Hallquist wants to grow government, increases taxes and deficits
    Hallquist wants to impose a carbon tax, after a “study” by a pro carbon tax entity.
    Hallquist wants to further restrict guns and gun ownership.
    Hallquist wants to start government programs to distribute the carbon tax to energy poor people.
    Hallquist is supported by all the RE entities, because they will get more subsidies for their projects.
    Hallquist wants to increase the refuge flows to Vermont.
    Hallquist wants to further decrease the effectiveness of Vermont police forces who try to stop illegals at the Canadian border.
    Hallquist is deflecting by changing the subject to side issues like race, gender,
    Hallquist wants to play Robin Hood, i.e., take even more from the hard workers, give even more to the shirkers, per vote getting Dem/Prog agenda.

    “As governor, Hallquist says she would move forward with the state’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050……”
    Hallquist wants to implement the CEP program (90% RE of ALL primary energy by 2050) that requires at least $33 BILLION until 2050, and likely more thereafter, as estimated by Energy Action Network. See URL
    http://eanvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/EAN-2015-Annual-Report-Low-Res-Final.pdf
    That would require huge carbon taxes.
    – Many ridgelines in the NEK would be covered with wind turbines.
    – The NEK would need a new grid.
    – Tens of thousands of acres would be covered with solar panels.
    – The wholesale price of electricity would increase from about 5 c/kWh to at least 10 – 15 c/kWh.

    Hallquist cannot implement the CEP goal of “90% RE of ALL Primary Energy by 2050” without a huge carbon tax of several hundred million dollars per year for starters.
    Vermont RE groups are salivating at the prospect of such unilateral carbon taxes so they can implement their government, distributionist programs that would damage most households and would not shift the global warming needle by one iota.

    Hallquist wants you to believe she has “same general position as Scott on taxes”?
    She may be disingenuous.
    She has to be in favor of carbon taxes, because he could certainly NOT implement the CEP goal of “90% RE of ALL Primary Energy by 2050” without huge carbon taxes of several hundred million dollars per year for STARTERS.
    Various Vermont RE interests are salivating at the prospect of such unilateral carbon taxes so they could implement their government-subsidized, distributionist programs for “disadvantage” households.
    The taxes would damage the finances of most other households, which also would have to pay for their own energy measures.
    The taxes are strictly feel-good, because they would not shift the global warming needle by one iota.

    On Hallquist’s campaign “Issues” web page, under Environment, the following single phrase about energy policy:
    “Follow the Solar Pathways Vermont plan for reaching a 90% renewable energy supply by 2050”
    The Solar Pathways Vermont plan, which was produced with a grant from DOE under Obama, has been discredited as being a wild pipe dream in NE.
    One of the more disturbing recommendations is that in order to create “certainty” for developers and investors (so they can make money) a method for creating “public acceptance” of large numbers of solar projects “must be devised”.
    Hallquist is going to devise these projects?
    Hallquist says he is in favor of solar.
    This article describes the solar and wind conditions in Vermont.
    They are the second WORST in the US.
    The rainy, overcast US northwest is first.

    Scott has already met the litmus test of no new taxes for two years. He deserves to be re-elected.

    • WP,
      I hope Vermonters read your posting ( excellent), I hope they realize what could and will
      happen to VT as we know it !!

      We’ve been FIRST on enough foolish projects or missions and this Governor Race just
      goes to show …………. Pretty Sad.

  2. I’d like to think I wasn’t venting but rather standing up for the rights of all Vermonter’s including myself. There were two other candidates in the audience and had they spoken out when I did the rest of the audience might have gotten a clearer picture of the problem.

    They choose to remain silent. That is their right. Anne Galloway owner of Vt Digger and the one who put on this debate, along with sponsors Davis &Hodgdon Associates and Green Mountain Coffee stated her reason in the following statement,

    “I have chosen to focus on the candidates that have run credible campaigns and have a viable chance of winning the governorship. If we were to invite six candidates to the event we believe it would be unwieldy and not in the best interest of voters.”

    In that short statement she tells Vermonters that she will decide for them who the best candidates are. They can sit back and relax she knows best.

    On October 17 wcax will host a debate between the two and on October 24 VPR PBS will hold a debate between the two. All Vermont voters are being disenfranchised by this process and if you want it to change you should vote Independent so this won’t happen again and Vermont can break the two party system. I ask for your support. Vote Charles Laramie Independent!

    • Bravo to you for standing up! Thank you so much.

      You brought some fascinating insight from our schools, from the perspective of a teacher. These debates are not only to ferret out who is going to be elected, but what ideas and solutions are brought to the table. It is very important to bring in these ideas, because currently two parties keep saying the same things and nothing changes. I find it ironic that an organization which claims to be in “pursuit of the truth”, blocks ideas and candidates that the taken the time, effort and are legitimate candidate from speaking in an effort to make our state a more perfect union.

      In the debate between “Shumlin and Milne” there were 4-5 other candidates. ALL of the other candidates brought very good, logical points that needed to be addressed.

      They lambasted Chris Erickson for her hat, but what was she talking about? Lake Champlain and the fighter jets…..which we’ve been talking about ever since that election.

      Peter Diamondstone, whom I disagreed with for most of the debate hit a home run that nobody followed. When aske what secret super power they’d like to have as Governor, Peter didn’t take the bait, he said government is supposed to be open and transparent. Boom! Out of the park. Everybody else took the bait. What is our ethics grade, our transparency grade at that time? A D-, one of the lowest in the state.

      Dan Feliciano, an expert in efficiencies……probably the most important issue in our government, would be a God send if put into a position to use his expertise.

      Emily, brought up tutoring, mentoring, a much needed format in our state, she brought up quite a few good ideas.

      All of the candidates brought up some excellent points, perhaps all of them were not ready to take the governor’s office, but clearly they were bringing up topics and solutions for these topics that make sense.

      We used to listen to common sense in our town meetings, it mattered not where the idea came from, does it ring true. Those in power have complete control of the conversation and that needs to change.

      Great job Charles…

  3. Just came from a meeting in Warren where we were able to meet two Gubernatorial Candidates, one of them Charles Laramie. It was hosted by Bill Robinson and GOV, which invited all candidates running in Washington county or state wide office.

    In the short meet and greet of many candidates there were many very good points brought up. But nobody in any state wide Vermont news organization is covering the other candidates.

    There is a clear silencing going on within our state, to a degree that is disturbing. Many others were talking about the censoring. Are they a news organization, a PAC or a lobbyist. They clearly need to change their tag line, in pursuit of the truth leads to coughing and gaging.

    When you can’t be part of the conversation, Vermonters can’t come together and solve their own problems. Well I guess that is the point, keeps those in power, in power. We Vermonters are being played like a cheap fiddle……

    Maybe some don’t want votes taken away from people, like the Shumlin/Milne race, how can we protect the democratic challenger? Make sure nobody even knows what the other people are saying, most definitely if they are making any sense. These elections and party control show no resemblance of fairness, justice or allowing the citizens to make decisions for themselves. Lobbyists must love the total control they have within our state.

    Pretty much every survey we get has questions concerning the democratic platform that was not laid out by Vermonters, but the DNC. If you say yes….we’ll give you money, if you say no……no cash for you, this is why we detest PACS.

    We need to come together, we can solve our own problems.

  4. So let’s see we have a hand full of candidates running for Governor but we only get to hear
    from the Incumbent ( Scott ) and I guess his main Contender (Hallquist) I guess VT Digger
    already knows something we don’t !!

    Charles Laramie, an independent candidate should have been allowed in the Debate, I’d
    never vote for him, because of the Stigma we have with another Independent ” The Bern”
    but I’m willing to listen and “Thanks for your Service”, you’d make a good Conservative !!

    So that now brings me to, Christine Hallquist she’s running under the banner ” DemocRAT ”
    in reality ” Progressive DemocRAT ” if you listen to her, with her giving to all policies, kind
    of sounds like The Bern, so that did it for me.

    Now comes our Incumbent Gov Phil Scott, with some of his decisions he has made this
    year ( Gun Bills) I have my concerns, with that being said the State as a whole is doing
    better under his” Leadership ” yeah, yeah I know…….

    So we have a choice, keep who we have with the Incumbent or get another Progressive
    DemocRAT running the state house, now that scares me………….

    • There must be consequences for lying to the people and violating his oath. I will do my part to make sure he is held accountable. As a former Republican county chair told legislative candidates, once you lie to your constituents you are done.

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