Republican Gubernatorial Primary Race 2020: Bernard Peters
Bernard Peters is one of four Republicans going up against incumbent Gov. Phil Scott in the party's primary on August 11th. Peters lives in Irasburg. He's a Vietnam War veteran and a former employee of the Department of Transportation. He ran for governor once before, in 2014, as an independent.
VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Bernard Peters, 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 ran for governor once before as an independent, back in 2014, so why are you running again?
Bernard Peters: Well, first of all, in my personal opinion, [Gov. Phil] Scott did not do what he said he was going to do. Of course, I’m quite an NRA member, and he said he was going to help the sportsmen and the gun owners. And then when the legislature passed that gun bill, I asked him in a debate before, I said, “Why did you sign that?” He said, “Well, I looked it over and didn't see anything that interfered with the Second Amendment,” which I disagree with, so you know. I mean, if you're going to say something, don't back out of it and do something different.
And what was it you took issue with in the controls that were put in place back in 2018? I mean, that was in response to a threat at a school at a time when school shootings were prevalent around the country. Do you understand the argument for why there were some regulations put in place, given that there was a real threat of violence in the schools?
Yes, there was. And I look at it like this: We can teach kids about safe sex and different things, and if we're going to teach them this stuff, we should teach them gun safety in school.
Well, I want to ask a little bit more about why you chose to run. The secretary of state waived the signature gathering requirement for candidates for this primary due to the coronavirus earlier in the spring. And that means candidates did not have to submit a certain number of signatures to get on the ballot. Was that any part of the reason why you chose to run this year?
No, it's just, like I said, we're a very high-tax state. We have a lot of rules and regulations. Take people that are making minimum wage or on Social Security - they can't quite make ends meet. And what bothers me is the state keeps spending more money, sometimes, than it takes in. Well, there's no law against saving money. I mean, they start new programs and they fund them the first year. The second year, they may not have the finances to cover it. They should look ahead before they do something.
Well, I want to talk a little bit more about budget issues in Vermont. The state could be facing a significant budget shortfall in the new fiscal year. Would you prefer balancing the budget through cuts to government or through new revenue from taxes - or other forms of revenue - or a combination of those two things?
I don't think the state of Vermont can take any more taxes. I think everybody's taxed right to death. I worked for the state for 35 years, and I can tell you, I've seen so much waste, it was not even funny. And I think a little more scrutinizing on some things, I know there's a lot of places that could be done differently and save money.
I want to focus for a moment on one of the very large issues that the state has been facing in the last few months, which is the coronavirus, as well as the economic fallout from the COVID-19 shutdown. Why do you think, just given the level of crises that the state and the country are facing right now, should Vermonters turn to a new leader right now?
Well, my models been on, when I'm campaigning: It's time to put a working person back in Montpelier. A lot of people down there, and no disrespect to them, are lawyers and real estaters, and people with money. And a real person - I grew up poor, you know, and you had to save money. And I think it's time that somebody should go back the old-fashioned way, and say, let's look it over before we spend it.
Tell me a little bit more about why you think right now is the right time for different leadership in the state.
Well, Vermont is really not very high up on the scale for being business-friendly, and we’re taxed on everything now, and maybe some new ideas.
When I hear people say "I'm working for the Republican Party or I'm working for the Democratic Party," I say, “No, that's not what you're doing." When you get elected by the people, you're working for the people. That's your first priority. Your second priority is work for the betterment of Vermont. Then on down the line, third or fourth, then you’re working for the party, but not to begin with. This is what you're working for, is to make Vermont better.
I want to turn to a different issue that's been in the news the last few months. There've been increasing calls for police reform in Vermont since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis back in May. Some activists are calling for decreasing police budgets and reallocating those funds to different social services, such as mental health care. Do you support moving funds away from police departments?
Not really, because we need the police. The crime rate is always going up. Vermont’s having a problem with drugs. They're not just dropping out of the sky, somebody's transporting them from wherever. And we need enough police departments to stop them and put them people in jail. And then what are you going to do if you defund the police? You don't have them and somebody decides to break into a home and decides to rape your wife or whatever.
(Editor's note: Though data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicates that Vermont's violent crime rate has increased since 2014, the rate at which property crimes are committed in the state has been on the decline since at least 2008. The FBI's data does not reflect a steady increase in crime overall.)
But the proposal –
Who’re you going to call?
The proposal isn't necessarily to get rid of police entirely, but to move some of the responses that police now have to take care of, like mental health calls, to other social services, other professionals.
Well, I still think, the way it is now, if there's been a shooting, with people that have gone to work with the Department [for Children and] Families and stuff, and if they've got to go to an issue that's been called, you should almost be certain to have a police officer with you, because some of these situations can turn bad in a hurry.
Just finally, before I let you go, you're running in the Republican primary. Do you support President Trump?
I'm going to put it blankly: It's been a long time since we've had a president with a set of nuts that would back up what he said. He's not always right on everything. Nobody is going to be right on everything.
Well, do you plan to vote for him in November?
Yes, I do.
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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.