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Democratic Gubernatorial Primary Race 2020: Pat Winburn

Pat Winburn headshot
Winburn Law Offices
Bennington-based Attorney Pat Winburn is one of four Democrats seeking the party's nomination for governor this August.

Pat Winburn is one of four Democrats seeking the party's nomination for governor in the Aug. 11 primary. Winburn is a newcomer to politics, and is mostly self-funding his campaign. He lives in Bennington and he’s been a trial lawyer for over 30 years.

VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Pat Winburn, and their interview below has been condensed and edited for clarity. VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates for governor.

Find VPR's Vermont Primary 2020 coverage here.

Henry Epp: Vermont is in the midst of dual crises: The public health crisis of COVID-19, and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 shutdown. So why should Vermonters turn to a new leader at this time?

Pat Winburn: I think that this year, with the general election having Donald Trump, it's going to be a "change" election, and I think that people are looking for outsiders. You know, people that haven't been involved inside of government. And I think that that's one of the features that my candidacy offers, is that I am not a politician. You know, the outsider status is what distinguishes me from the rest of the field, and I think that's what's going to make us win in August and in November.

Well, I want to get your view on a few different issues that we're asking all candidates about. First of all, relative to other states. Vermont has seen fairly low rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths so far. Given that, I'm curious what you think personally of Gov. Phil Scott's response to the pandemic and his overall leadership over the past few months?

Well, I think that he's done a reasonable job, but I think that that's all he's done. If you look at his record, basically Gov. Scott is a Trump Republican and he hasn't done the things that George Aiken Republicans would do in the past. He's really more of a Trump Republican.

Really? Because, I mean, he's vocally opposed President Trump on a number of occasions.

He has. But he's also headlined fundraisers with Gov. Scott Walker, the most anti-labor politician in America. He ran his first state Senate campaign on a platform of opposing civil unions. He vetoed paid family leave. He vetoed $15 minimum wage, and he's continued signing contracts with a private, out-of-state prison group that warehouses Vermont offenders. And he's chronically underfunded higher education and understaffed virtually every department in state government.

Specifically on the issue of the coronavirus pandemic, what would you do differently than the Scott administration in the continued response to the pandemic after November?

Well, I would have shown leadership like Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo from the state of New York. You have to, sort of, listen to the experts, but make prompt and decisive decisions. And Gov. Cuomo essentially shut the state down and stopped the spread of the virus. He also mandated masks, and he did all the things that you need to do in order to stop the spread of a deadly virus. And, you know, frankly, I don't think [Gov. Scott] did any of these things.

I mean, he did shut, the state was fairly well shut down for well over a month.

Yeah, belatedly. And then he opens it up and then he closes it down. You know, admittedly, it's hindsight, but I think that he really hasn't shown the leadership that people in Vermont ultimately will expect, especially when it comes to the issues that have to do with other matters, because the coronavirus eventually is going to subside.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black Americans, and that's true in Vermont as well. Black or African American Vermonters make up just under 2% of the state's population, but right now, 11% of COVID-19 cases. Black people are also disproportionately imprisoned in Vermont. So how would you plan to address racial inequities in Vermont if you're elected governor?

Well, as a white person, it's my job to amplify the voices of those who are directly affected by systemic racism that exists everywhere. Bias training is needed at every level of government and also in our communities, and we need to acknowledge the problem and address it.

Vermont prides itself on being the first state to outlaw slavery, but the claim is hollow if you look at our history, from our treatment of the Abenakis, to the exploitation of migrant workers, to driving-while-Black pullovers, racism is all around us. And I'll call it out and I'll call it what it is. It's, you know, racism. And I'll seek out the guidance of communities of color in my administration.

The state could be facing some budget shortfalls — this is a fairly precarious time economically. What would you do to ensure that Vermont both has a balanced budget and is able to meet the various obligations that it has right now for state government?

Well, we are going to be getting some federal money. But, you know, I think a more progressive income tax would be a good way to generate revenue. We don't believe that the millionaires are going to head for the hills if we raise their taxes. On the contrary, during the pandemic, the housing market skyrocketed with people eager to move to Vermont.

And I think another way to generate revenue is to tax and regulate pot. If we're going to make it legal, then we should tax it.

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

You have self-funded a fair amount of your campaign. Why is this a good use of your personal money, to put towards a campaign for governor in a time when you'd be going up against an incumbent who's been fairly popular?

Well, I think it's time for a change. And I've been talking about these same issues for over decades. Most people are not in a position to make anything happen and to do anything about what their opinions are, other than politicians. So, you know, I've decided to put my money where my mouth is and try to get the word out.

Given that you've shown that you have money to fund a campaign, if you are not the Democratic nominee, would you donate to whoever that Democratic nominee is, in the interest of defeating Gov. Scott?


OK. I mean, is there an amount that you would be committed to giving to that nominee?

Well, I don't plan to give them anything because I think I'll be the nominee. You know, but I guess we'd do some fundraising and some other ways of getting a Democrat elected.

But I think it's really, really important that this year, that a Democrat becomes governor of Vermont. We just can't stand another four years of Donald Trump, and we really can't stand another two years of Gov. Scott.

More from VPR: 2020 Primary Debates: Democratic Candidates For Governor

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet host Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp. 

We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

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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