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Debate Round-Up: Four Democratic Gov. Candidates Talk Health Care, Race, Economic Recovery

Democratic candidates for governor 2020 primary
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On Tuesday, the four Democratic candidates for Governor squared off over Zoom, Rebecca Holcombe, top left, Ralph Corbo, top right, Pat Winburn, bottom left and David Zuckerman, bottom right.

Ahead of the Aug. 11 primary, VPR / Vermont PBS are hosting debates among the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. You can find the full audio from today's debate, here.

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and former Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe sparred over Zuckerman's past remarks on vaccines during a debate hosted July 21 by Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS.

On Tuesday, Vermont's four Democratic candidates - also including Bennington attorney Patrick Winburn, Wallingford activist Ralph "Carcajou" Corbo - squared off over Zoom.

The debate, moderated by Jane Lindholm, touched on how the candidates would address challenges ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic, to the pandemic-fueled recession, climate change and racial disparities in Vermont.

Holcombe called out Zuckerman's 2015 support for philosophical exemptions for vaccines otherwise required for students attending public school.

"I was there as Secretary of Education. I heard what you said," Holcombe asserted.

In the midst of a pandemic, "when people are questioning whether vaccines are safe, what we really need to do is make sure people feel safe and will take the [coronavirus] vaccine," Holcombe stated.

Zuckerman's 2015 comments about vaccines "really applied an untenable standard that went against the advice of public health experts," she added.

Zuckerman's shot back, saying he ultimately voted to end the state's philosophical exemptions and accused Holcombe of "distorting" his views.

"I've not been unclear. I support vaccines and I will follow medical professionals' advice on making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory," Zuckerman said.

"You can continue to distort one statement from 20 years of public service," he added.  "If people really look at the whole picture, it's quite clear."

Find VPR's Vermont Primary 2020 coverage, including a full debate schedule, here.

Here's what the candidates had to say on key issues during the debate:

On the economy:

Rebecca Holcombe:

Holcombe said she hopes to kickstart the economy by investing in Vermont businesses, including childcare centers, to help get communities back on their feet.

“We need to invest in Vermont and Vermonters,” Holcombe said. “It’s critically important to use the purchasing power of government to keep money circulating.”

Holcombe also underscored the need to keep Vermonters safe while the economy reopens, and of working to transition them into places and fields where there will be jobs.

Pat Winburn:

A self-described progressive Democrat, Pat Winburn said he hopes to use history as a blueprint in his approach to the current economic recession, drawing on President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to invest in jobs and stimulate economic activity.

Winburn, who has never held public office, stressed the need to invest in infrastructure, including broadband, and to avoid austerity budgeting.

“We need to give the people of Vermont a new New Deal,” Winburn stated. “And we need to bring about the change that will put Vermont on a strong economic footing.”

Winburn said he favors legalizing — and taxing — cannabis sales to fund those investments.

Ralph Corbo:

A critic of the federal government’s defense spending, Corbo said Vermont will be on its own when it comes to addressing statewide and international economic suffering, suggesting a progressive income tax on wealthy Vermonters as a solution.

Corbo, like Winburn, turned to history for guidance on how to address the current crisis. Although he is a Democrat, Winburn voiced his support for former Republican Gov. Snelling’s response to the recession of the early 1980s.

“We’re going to have to do the difficult thing like Gov. Richard Snelling did back in 1990, when he instituted a progressive income tax,” Corbo said. “They raised the rate on the top 5% of the wealthiest Vermonters and were able to overcome the downturn that they were in, and that’s what needs to be done right now.”

Corbo is also challenging incumbent Peter Welch for Vermont’s sole congressional seat.

David Zuckerman:

The only candidate currently in office discussed his desire for Vermont to receive more help from the federal government. Zuckerman said he hopes Gov. Scott will work with Republicans at the national level to get the HEROES act passed and unemployment benefits extended before financial challenges get worse for Vermonters.  

Zuckerman also voiced support for a temporary marginal tax increase to support working people.

“As governor, I’ll be working with the new administration, the Biden administration, to get that kind of support for Vermont. But we need to use the dollars we have. We need to use every dollar really efficiently,” he said.

2020 Primary Debates: Republican Candidates For Lieutenant Governor

On systemic racism and racial inequality in Vermont:

Pat Winburn:

Winburn said he will address issues of race in office through a focus on education, and said he is committed to appointing a person of color to his cabinet.

“We need to appoint school resource officers and social workers in the school systems of Vermont, so people understand the significance of Martin Luther King and the problems and the plight of people of color in our state,” Winburn said.

Ralph Corbo:

Corbo spoke about the need to address police violence and ban dangerous devices like tear gas and Tasers.

He also expressed support for bills H496 and H808, which are currently being considered by the Legislature, which address bias-motivated crimes and use of deadly force by law enforcement.

“So as far as immediate remedies, those are some of the ones,” he said. “And on the economic side we need to study them.”

More from VPR: Police Reform Bills In Montpelier Get Pushback From Both Cops And Their Critics

Rebecca Holcombe:

The former teacher and principal stressed the need for data-driven change in order for Vermont to build equity into state policy.

“I would evaluate every policy proposal that came to me through the eyes of equity, to make sure it would be truly sharing opportunity and not reinforcing the inequities we already have,” Holcombe said.

Holcombe also said she supports implicit bias training for all staff across all agencies of government, and said she wants the government to “look more like the people we serve.”

David Zuckerman:

Zuckerman stressed the need to expand the Office of Social Equity and improve education for young people and adults in Vermont.

“We need to include far more people at the table from the very beginning as I have done for 20 years on numerous policies to make sure voices are represented from the beginning, not just at the end of the conversation."

2020 Primary Debates: Democratic Candidates For Lieutenant Governor

On climate change:

Cheryl in Chester submitted a question for the candidates: “What do you think the effect of COVID-19 has been on the climate crisis, and because of that, what are your ideas on restarting the economy with regard to the climate crisis? What are your plans for office, taking into consideration the urgency and need for drastic changes, rather than gradual changes?”

Rebecca Holcombe: 

Holcombe proposed a green energy transition, as an opportunity for Vermont to develop energy independence and create jobs with good wages. 

“We know that COVID-19 is killing us in the present and making us sick in the present, but climate change is also doing the same thing,” Holcombe said. “So it is urgent and we need to respond.”

Patrick Winburn: 

Patrick Winburn did not answer Cheryl’s question regarding the climate crisis, but steered the conversation back to the economy.

“We need infrastructure investment. We need more workplace development, and the way we can help pay for that is by taxing pot, having a progressive income tax. The wealthy benefitted during the good times and I think they can pay their fair share during the hard times that we're going through now," Winburn said.

Ralph Corbo: 

Corbo said we need to focus on getting toxins out of the environment in Vermont. 

“We have to stop fostering military weaponry operation factories that have tremendously toxic byproducts,” Corbo said.  “We have to think outside the box and think about turning the entire economy of the state into something of a green peace economy.”

David Zuckerman: 

Zuckerman said he wants to implement a Green Mountain New Deal, which would include weatherization of homes owned by seniors and working class Vermonters, and building out broadband.

“We would do a marginal tax rate on the top wealth earners in the state and put that money towards immediate jobs in Vermont,” Zuckerman said. “...Doing small-scale solar and renewable energy retrofits on working class and senior homes to save them money and tackle the climate crisis and put people to work.”

2020 Primary Debates: Democratic Candidates For Governor

On health care

Jean from Winooski asked the candidates: “Never has it been so obvious that we have to divorce health care from employment. What is your plan for that, and how will it be paid for?"

Pat Winburn:

Winburn said that under his proposed approach, if people like their health insurance, they can keep it and pay for it, but that ultimately health care should not be tied to employment.

“Health care is not just a human right, it’s our moral responsibility.”

Ralph Corbo:

Ralph Corbo also said he endorses the concept of divorcing health care from employment.

“In the long run, other types of things like a slight payroll tax they might have to pay in the long run, will wind up being a lot less if you give the responsibility for all that healthcare acquisition and maintenance to a government institution," Corbo said.

David Zuckerman:

In a state with a shrinking population, Zuckerman said eliminating the fear of losing health care will attract young people and young families to move to the state to start businesses.

“Not only will a universal health care system be beneficial for employers, it will also be beneficial for employees and entrepreneurs who can now go out and start businesses without the fear of losing their health care.”

Rebecca Holcombe:

Holcombe said she would focus on payment reform to move the state towards universal health care for all Vermonters, discussing a pilot plan she hopes to introduce that would take out the middleman.

"I will lean in on payment reform to get it done because that’s the step we need to take, where we can afford universal care for all Vermonters."

2020 Primary Debates: Republican Candidates for Governor

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A thin grey line.

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.

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