Four Democrats Seek Party's Nomination For Lieutenant Governor
Aside from presiding over the state senate, and casting the occasional tie-breaking vote, the lieutenant governor’s job doesn’t carry much in the way of constitutional powers. But the statewide post has been an important stepping stone for many ambitious politicians, and four Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor are vying for their party’s nomination in next week’s primary election.
The $600 weekly benefit that’s kept many unemployed Vermonters afloat during the coronavirus pandemic expired last week.
Brenda Siegel says she understands the financial stress that loss of income is going to cause.
“I’m going to be losing it as well,” Siegel said. “And it makes me really think about the experience that so many Vermonters are having right now across the state and how important it is to have someone who really understands that struggle inside the Legislature.”
As a single mother who’s struggled with poverty, economic dislocation and losing family members to the opioid epidemic, Siegel says her personal experiences have infused her political activism.
And Siegel, a Newfane resident who ran for governor in 2018, says she’ll make sure that historically marginalized voices get amplified in Montpelier, if voters elect her as Vermont’s next lieutenant governor.
“The lieutenant governor’s office needs an advocate inside the office,” Siegel said. “So being able to have someone with lived experience in there, someone who is of the people in that same role, allows you to have some influence on the ground with those issues.”
Debbie Ingram's personal backstory is unique as well. She says she’s endured career setbacks because of her sexual orientation, and also is in active recovery from alcoholism.
“And to have a leader who has been through difficult times herself and come out stronger on the other side, I hope, will be inspiring and helpful to people,” Ingram said.
Ingram pointed out that she brings four years of legislative experience, as a state senator representing Chittenden County.
“I also believe that I have the best record on what is arguably the most important issue facing our society - racial justice,” Ingram said.
Ingram helped lead the push to have Columbus Day permanently changed to Indigenous People’s Day. She also advocated for legislation that created Vermont’s first-ever director of racial equity. And she introduced a bill that expanded race data collection in Vermont law enforcement agencies.
Ingram says the principles of inclusion and equity will guide her work in other policy arenas as well.
“Because I’ve always found that people on the ground who are really engaged in the issues are the ones who understand them the best and have the best ideas for solutions around them, so I’d want to make sure that their voices are lifted up and that Montpelier is paying attention,” Ingram said.
Tim Ashe has spent the past four years as president pro tem of the Vermont Senate. He says that’s given him an outsized role in government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and also a keen understanding of how state government operates.
“This is a moment to really think, ‘What is the point of the lieutenant governor’s position?’ You are the person ready to fill in on a moment’s notice,” Ashe said. “I’m ready to step in if need be and have been tested these last four months for sure to play that role.”
Ashe says that as the leader of the 30-member state senate, he’s had to subordinate his personal priorities in Montpelier. As lieutenant governor, he says he’d be free to pursue a more ambitious anti-poverty agenda. And he says he’d use the statewide platform to push for a “youth service corps,” akin to the Civilian Conservation Corps created during the Great Depression.
“And come up with what I believe should be the next big bet on young people in this state, which is opportunities like a youth service corps, not just for hundreds of people a year, but possibly thousands of young people a year,” Ashe said.
Molly Gray is a newcomer to statewide politics, and had kept a low profile in Montpelier prior to entering the race.
Gray says that’s also what sets her apart from the other candidates on the primary ballot.
“I think first and foremost, I’m not a product of the Statehouse,” Gray says.
Gray is an assistant attorney general who formerly worked for Congressman Peter Welch in Washington, D.C. And while she may not have participated vocally in Statehouse politics of late, Gray says her past work with the U.S. Department of State qualifies her to lead in Montpelier.
“I’m the only candidate that’s worked in crisis, in humanitarian crisis,” Gray says. “I’ve led field missions into Baghdad, into Iraq, into Nigeria, where I’ve had teams that I’ve had to manage, and support their security.”
Gray says she’s also familiar with crises facing residents of Vermont. She grew up on a vegetable and dairy farm in Orange County, and attended the University of Vermont and Vermont Law School.
“And what I’m hearing from Vermonters is that we still don’t have adequate access to broadband. We still don’t have adequate access to universal childcare, paid family and medical leave,” Gray says.
The choice voters make in next week’s lieutenant governor primary could have a long-lasting impact on Vermont politics.
Four of the last seven former lieutenant governors have gone on to win election to either the governor’s office or the U.S. House of Representatives.
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Correction: This story previously misstated Brenda Siegel's town of residency.