Democratic Gubernatorial Primary Race 2020: Ralph 'Carcajou' Corbo
Activist Ralph "Carcajou" Corbo is one of four Democratic candidates on the ballot for Governor in the August 11 primary. He’s also challenging Rep. Peter Welch in the Democratic primary for the state’s only U.S. Congressional seat. Corbo lives in Wallingford, and he may be best known for interrupting Governor Phil Scott’s 2019 State of the State address in a brief protest.
VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Ralph Corbo, and their interview below has been condensed and edited for clarity. VPR is seeking interviews with all of the candidates for governor.
Henry Epp: You're seeking two different offices. Why run for both governor and for Congress?
Ralph Corbo: I was actually involved in my own personal program in the spring of trying to recruit, especially among young people - intelligent high school teenagers I met during my work up at the State House in 2019, especially when there was a lot of youth climate rallies. Because I feel it's important for them, especially, to be involved in the political process.
But unfortunately, this rare set of circumstances that came up, I think it sort of made them a little gun-shy. So when I saw that there wasn't much results on that, I figured, well, if I'm going to get this message out that I know a lot of things are important to them, like climate change and safe schools, that I guess I'd have to do it myself in this election cycle.
And so when you talk about the circumstances, do you mean the pandemic? Did that change people's minds?
Yes, I think that's a big thing among young people right now. There's so much uncertainty in that.
Well, let's talk a little bit more about the pandemic. Vermont is in the midst of dealing with that public health crisis, as well as the economic fallout from the COVID-19 shutdown. So why do you think Vermonters should turn to a new governor at this pretty extraordinary time?
Everything Phil Scott, and unfortunately a lot of politicians do, is [be] what you call "reactive" to issues. Nobody seems to be proactive in this day and age of the 21st century, with a long-term visionary outlook. You know, I mean, this is something that people have to realize has been building for decades and decades. I mean, the breakdown of people's immune systems through the degradation of our environment.
I want to turn to another topic. There have been increasing calls for police reform in response to nationwide protests over the last few months stemming from the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. And there are a number of activists calling for decreasing police budgets and reallocating funds to social services, calling that defunding the police. Do you support defunding the police?
Yes, I think along with the way the national military budget goes, it's become also a characteristic of local law enforcement to try to militarize them right to the hilt with a lot of taxpayer surplus weaponry and stuff. Also, there's been the philosophy of the training has been too closely tied into military type training.
I want to turn to another topic that I know you mentioned earlier. A poll conducted by VPR and Vermont PBS earlier this year showed a split over the state's response to climate change. 39% thought that state officials were doing enough to combat climate change, and other 39% thought that they were not. Do you feel personally like Vermont is doing enough to tackle climate change?
No, especially at the ground level. There's too much pandering to the Vermont agricultural establishment; specifically industrial type dairy farms. There seems to be laxity in enforcing the rules against, oh, like manure spreading and runoff.
So you would be in favor of stricter standards and enforcement for dairy farmers?
Oh, definitely. There has to be, again, thinking outside the box and looking to the future. We really should be seeing that there'll come a time soon when it won't be profitable at all for traditional fluid milk dairy farming.
You interrupted Gov. Scott's 2019 State of the State address, throwing fake dollar bills off of the House gallery. Can you tell me, what was the intention of that protest?
Well, because I know right off the bat, Phil Scott is definitely no friend of the environment. His sole priority is to help out his friends in the business and corporate community. Other than talking about electric vehicles, he is not anybody that comes forward and talks forcefully about protecting and saving the environment. His sole focus is on the economy and money, without weighing the costs that some of those programs do to create harm, long term harm, to our environment. So that was a way to make that known, when I vocally said that without the clean air and water, all the jobs and economy you can generate won't mean squat in the long run.
Do you feel like that message was heard in that protest?
No, I could tell it made no impact on him, because he just turned it into a joke.
So it sounds like you oppose Gov. Phil Scott. You're running for the Democratic nomination, though your campaign infrastructure, I mean, it doesn't appear you have much, especially compared to some of the other people running for this office. Will you vote for the Democratic nominee for governor if it's not you?
Um, no, I've always been a person that's, in a sense, maintained an independent mind on that. To me, the party is just a vehicle that conventional politics requires. But I always vote based on the character and the words of a particular candidate that resonates the most closely with me.
So you don't find the character or the words of your opponents in the Democratic race compelling?
I would say in some of their issues I take odds with, against. There are some good ideas out there, but I haven't, I would say so far I haven't found among them any of them at this point that I can say I really want to wholeheartedly vote for them, at this point, you know?
I want to ask, Secretary of State Jim Condos waived signature gathering requirements earlier this year, due to the pandemic, for this year's primaries. Is that part of the reason that you registered to run for multiple offices?
Yes. Being the opportunity was there, I felt there was a message to be gotten out on specific issues that a lot of times in regular conventional campaigns don't get brought up; what I call inconvenient truths. I felt this was the opportunity to do it.
So is your candidacy then more about getting messages out that you might not otherwise have a platform to do?
Right. It's a way to expand on what I do through activism, like showing up at the Statehouse.
So given that, do you have an actual interest in serving as either governor or congressman?
Well, if by some miracle a Jesse Ventura type thing should happen to me, then I would jump into it wholeheartedly. I would accept the mandate from the people and do my best to protect Vermont and correct what I see as the wrongs.
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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.