Democratic Lieutenant Governor Primary Race 2020: Tim Ashe
Tim Ashe is a Democratic Progressive state senator representing Chittenden County as well as the president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate, and he is among four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Tim Ashe, and their interview below has been condensed and edited for clarity. VPR is interviewing all of the candidates for lieutenant governor.
Mitch Wertlieb: I want to make clear for our listeners who may be hearing some lovely bird tweeting behind you, that you are speaking to us outdoors today. You're in Bristol, is that correct? Tell us where you are.
Tim Ashe: I'm in Bristol. Normally, this would be the day that the outhouse races would be going on. Obviously, with COVID, there had to be some changes.
Lieutenant governor is an office with not a lot of specifically enumerated powers and responsibilities. How would you use the position to help Vermonters?
Well, I think one of the most important things the lieutenant governor's office can do is choose some strategic initiatives and then have the statewide platform of the office to go out and harness the energy throughout the state to drive towards fulfilling that vision to make action happen.
And one of the great blessings I've had in the last few years is being the president of the Senate. But unquestionably, in that role, I'm really the manager of 30 different people's priorities and passions and interests. And one of the things I find so appealing about the lieutenant governor's office is a chance to get back to my own priorities, communicate them to the public, and then bring it to action.
One part of the job is managing the Senate floor debates. You've got quite some experience with this now, having been the president of the Vermont Senate. How would your approach be different compared to previous lieutenant governors, if you got the job?
Well, I think all of the lieutenant governors that I've served with have tried to manage the floor sessions fairly, not trying to choose one side or the other based on their own beliefs. I would follow in the same footsteps, I hope. In that sense, fair play to me is absolutely critical when it comes to the running of government.
I think one difference would be: Members of the Senate and the House, I think, could look to me based on my experience for a little bit more policy guidance, advice, tactical support and a little bit of institutional memory to get things done.
I'm wondering how you could work effectively with a governor from a different party. If Gov. Phil Scott won reelection, for example, he's a Republican. Would you see any kind of conflict there?
Absolutely not. My entire career in elected office, I've worked well with people of all the political parties, and I don't expect any change there. And really, through the whole COVID emergency, the speaker and I have worked quite well with the governor. We're working towards a common objective. And my goal is always to try and find common ground, regardless of who is in the governor's office. I'm confident we'll be able to be productive.
How can we build and recover while keeping Vermonters safe?
Yeah, it's the great challenge before us. You know, when I entered the race for lieutenant governor, the state had a budget surplus. We didn't have a public health crisis, a global pandemic. Obviously, things have changed.
So my number one priority will be to rebuild Vermont's economy. This isn't a time for shiny new programs. This is a time for recovering our economic health as a state. I think that the key is that we're investing in ways that produce long-term benefits, making sure that we're rebuilding infrastructure that has been neglected for too long. Making sure that when we fight climate change, we're doing so in ways that save people money.
And frankly, reorienting our whole economic development strategy to focus really on the socially-responsible business ethic that many Vermont businesses have pioneered, so that we use this crisis as an opportunity to shift the direction for the future of the state and make the long-term investments that we need.
COVID-19, of course, is one crisis, and there is another going on nationally as well. Protests are continuing here in Vermont against racism and police brutality all around the country. How would you affect change in our state? Would you push for changes in law enforcement, for example?
Well, absolutely. I've been one of the key legislators in recent years passing legislation trying to root out racial disparities in law enforcement in the criminal justice system. But I'll confess that each year the legislature says, “Great, we passed the bills,” and then the people responsible for actually operationalizing those changes find ways to water it down, slow it down, or ignore the laws.
So in light of the recent discussions, I told members of the Senate, “Enough is enough, we are going to act now.” And that's what we did: acquiring body cameras for state police, banning the use of chokeholds. And as lieutenant governor, what you can count on is that I will be a watchdog and thorn in the side of any state official who does not carry out the work that we have to do.
These issues get a little trickier, though, when people call for defunding the police, for example. What's your stance on that?
My first priority is making sure that we're providing the types of resources law enforcement needs to better meet the types of emergency calls they're getting. I think the term “defund the police” is one that doesn't quite mean the same thing to any two people.
So from my point of view, it's about making investments in mental health through our law enforcement agencies, so that when people get a 911 call, we have the appropriate response. That we don't have the first interaction with someone in a mental health crisis be someone carrying a firearm necessarily. But maybe someone who's actually been trained in de-escalation and understands what to be looking for in the person who's in crisis.
You've mentioned your good working relationship, generally speaking, with the governor, you and the House speaker. One thing I did notice, though, that you did seem to clash a little bit with the governor on recently was your call for a task force on school reopening. What are some of the questions you want to see answered before schools reopen in the fall?
Well, Mitch, I've been hearing from teachers and administrators from throughout the state. They're wondering how that's actually going to work.
Whether it's the modifications to school facilities that need to happen, changes in the way classes are taught, the balance between in-person versus remote classes, these are all things that need an inclusive discussion right now. So we don't find ourselves in late August on the verge of school, starting up again with some document being produced by an official in Montpelier and then school districts throughout the state saying, “Wait a sec, this looks good in theory, but this doesn't work for us on the ground.”
That's why I've called for a task force immediately. And some people think this is just a discussion about education safely reopening. But frankly, our economy can't safely reopen unless we know how our schools are going to be operating, because so many parents need to tell their employers whether they're gonna be able to show up for work or not.
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Vermont’s primary election is on Aug. 11, so VPR is reaching out to candidates in contested races for governor, lieutenant governor and the U.S. House to find out why they're seeking to serve, and where they stand on the issues of the day. Find our full coverage here.