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David Zuckerman Seeks Democratic Nomination For Governor

David Zuckerman and his wife, Rachel Nevitt, have been farming this 150-acre parcel in Hinesburg for a decade. Zuckerman now wants to become the first Progressive/Democratic governor in Vermont history.
Peter Hirschfeld
/
VPR
David Zuckerman and his wife, Rachel Nevitt, have been farming this 150-acre parcel in Hinesburg for a decade. Zuckerman now wants to become the first Progressive/Democratic governor in Vermont history.

David Zuckerman first arrived in Vermont 30 years ago, to attend the University of Vermont. Since then, he’s become one of the more prolific campaigners in state politics.

Zuckerman has served a combined nine terms in the Vermont House of Representatives and state Senate. And in 2016, voters elected him lieutenant governor.

Now, Zuckerman wants to become the first Progressive/Democratic Party candidate in state history to serve as governor.

2020 Primary Debates: Democratic Candidates For Governor

But his path in politics wasn’t always so clear.

On Sept. 27, 1991, a college student with a mohawk haircut stood atop Mount Katahdin in Maine to ponder the meaning of life.

He’d just trekked all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and timed his arrival at its end point to coincide with the seven-year anniversary of his father’s death.

“[I was] exploring 'Who am I? What do I want to be in the world?' [and] thinking about my dad, and was I going to dishonor him if I didn’t continue on wanting to be a doctor, which is what I thought I wanted to be and part of my connection to him,” Zuckerman said recently.

Zuckerman said he found a moment of clarity that day, and realized that his father, a cardiothoracic surgeon who died of cancer when Zuckerman was in eighth grade, wouldn’t care what his son did. It was how Zuckerman pursued his vocation that would matter.

"And that was the hook that sunk into my cheek to get involved in the political process." - David Zuckerman, lieutenant governor

“And that’s what my parents always said, is: 'You have the opportunity to explore and be anything you want. But whatever you choose to do, you need to do it all in,'” Zuckerman says. “You need to do it well. To be the best at it, you’ve got to practice.”

Zuckerman chose to be a farmer. And he’s been practicing ever since.

He and his wife, Rachael Nevitt, own Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg. Rows of cabbage, carrots and cannabis (the non-psychoactive kind, he notes) grow beneath a low-rising range on the west side of the Green Mountains.

More from VPR: Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman Confirms The Speculation: He's Running For Governor In 2020

Zuckerman grew up in an upscale suburban neighborhood near Boston, Massachusetts, called Brookline. But he caught the farming bug at a family property on the edge of the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, where he and his mom and his older brother spent their summers

“We always had a huge garden growing up, and that was one of our jobs everyday was tending the garden,” Zuckerman said. “And in the evening my mom would say, you know, ‘Go pick some beans,’ or ‘Go dig some potatoes.’”

Zuckerman’s agricultural practices differ from his mom’s.

“Now, she used chemicals I would never use,” he said. “The corn was pink when we planted it in the ground because it was coated in fungicides.”

In Hinesburg, Zuckerman uses the organic farming protocols he first learned as an environmental studies major at UVM.

More from Vermont Edition: Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman Outlines Progressive Priorities For 2020

It wasn’t the only college experience that triggered a lasting career move.

In 1992, he became intrigued by an Independent candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, named Bernie Sanders.

"He basically at the time said that in his opinion, the Progressives existed to pull the Democrats to the left, and I thought that was really interesting," - Will Stevens, owner of Golden Russett Farm and former Independent legislator from Shoreham

“And I was like, ‘Wow - someone who can engage in the political process without compromising their core values, or appearing to compromise their core values. I’m on board,’” Zuckerman says. “And that was the hook that sunk into my cheek to get involved in the political process.”

Zuckerman said he knocked on every campus door at UVM that year, and registered more than 1,000 college students to vote.

He also decided to get into politics himself: In 1996, he launched what would become his first successful run for the Vermont House of Representatives.

Will Stevens owns a farm in Shoreham that Zuckerman worked on during the summer of one of his campaigns.

More from Vermont Edition: Rural Vermonters Face Challenges - So What Are Lawmakers Doing About It?

“I mean, we couldn’t be out in the field without having some sort of intense political conversation about something,” Stevens said.

Stevens said Zuckerman wore his progressive ideology openly and proudly, and that he had a sweeping vision for the role government could play in health care, the economy and environmental issues.

“He basically at the time said that in his opinion, the Progressives existed to pull the Democrats to the left, and I thought that was really interesting,” Stevens said.

Stevens later worked alongside Zuckerman in the Vermont Legislature, where they both served on the House Agriculture Committee. Stevens, an Independent, didn’t always share Zuckerman’s unadulterated enthusiasm for liberal causes, such as raising the minimum wage or single-payer health care.

But he said Zuckerman was adept at building coalitions across ideological lines.

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

“He was kind of a three-dimensional chess player, or maybe more, you know? He could anticipate moves,” Stevens said. “He understood what compromise meant and looked like, but there was also times when he knew when and where to draw the line.”

Zuckerman now straddles two parties - the Progressive one he was a forerunner in, and the Democratic one he’s sought to pull to the left.

And he says the advent of COVID-19 has only cemented his expansive view of government, whether it’s raising the minimum wage, instituting a universal health care system, or creating a mandatory paid family and medical leave program for Vermont workers.

"The broader support for how we are all interconnected economically and [in] health and education and wellbeing is far more apparent today that it was in January of 2020," - David Zuckerman, lieutenant governor

“The broader support for how we are all interconnected economically and [in] health and education and wellbeing is far more apparent today that it was in January of 2020,” Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman, who's raised nearly $300,000 for his gubernatorial campaign so far, concedes that his vision for state government will require a heavier stream of public revenues.

Much like the politician who inspired his run for office, Zuckerman says the wealthy can foot the bill, in the form of higher taxes.

“I’ve been willing to talk about this reality and this economic disparity in wealth for a very long time,” Zuckerman said. “You talk about me being a Bernie protégé, I mean, this is Bernie 101.”

He’ll find out on August 11 whether voters in the Democratic primary want a Sanders protégé as their governor.

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

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld

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