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Four Takeaways From Lt. Governor Major Party Candidate Debate

Molly Gray and Scott Milne over Zoom
Screenshot
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Vermont PBS
Major party candidates Molly Gray and Scott Milne face off over Zoom in the Lt. Gov. debate.

Tuesday, in a debate presented on radio and TV by VPR and Vermont PBS, lieutenant governor candidates Molly Gray and Scott Milne clashed over the role of government, how they’re raising money, and who they’re voting for (other than themselves, presumably). Neither candidate has held statewide office — or any elected office for that matter — and the candidates’ strategies seemed aimed more at point-scoring than illuminating their specific policy priorities.

The VPR-Vermont PBS 2020 Lt. Governor Debate, held on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, was hosted by Bob Kinzel, and included major party candidates Republican Scott Milne and Democrat Molly Gray. Listen to or watch the full debate here.

More from VPR: Scott And Zuckerman Face Off In First Gubernatorial Debate

Asked early in the debate whether he thought a public option for health insurance was a good approach for Vermont, Republican Scott Milne sidestepped the issue, telling a very personal story about losing his brother, Keith, to a childhood brain cancer. He noted that while the cost of childcare relative to US gross domestic product has surged in recent decades, that has come along with tremendous technological gains to help ensure kids like Keith have a better chance of survival today. Pushed by Kinzel on whether health insurance should be decoupled from employment, Milne said he thought “that had happened with the federal Affordable Care Act,” and characterized it as a step in the right direction.

Democratic candidate Molly Gray also looked to the national picture in her answer, asserting that one of the most important things Vermonters could do to protect their health care would be to vote in the presidential election for Democrat Joe Biden. Noting how many Americans lost their jobs at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gray argued that it’s imperative to cut ties between employment and insurance.

The candidates were asked about their perspective on Proposition 5, a proposed amendment to the Vermont Constitution to enshrine women’s reproductive rights. Much as Gov. Phil Scott did in last week’s gubernatorial election, Milne said he supports the ability of Vermonters to have a vote in this matter, noting that he’s a “pro-choice Republican,” but declined to say whether he personally supports the ballot measure.

Explore the results of the new VPR-Vermont PBS Poll

When it was her turn, Molly Gray tried to give her time back to Milne, in order to “have Scott say unequivocally whether he supports Prop 5.” Kinzel was having none of that, telling Gray to ask Milne in the next section if she wanted, and again posing the original question to her. Gray said she unequivocally supports the measure.

In the second part of the debate, when Gray and Milne had a chance put questions to each other, the candidates attacked one another on how they are raising funds and on the actions of their supporters.

Molly Gray’s voting record was the preamble to Milne’s first question, but instead of asking Gray to explain or defend her record, Milne pivoted to ask Gray who she’d be voting for in the gubernatorial race. Gray focused on the first part of the question, asserting that unlike her opponent she wasn’t using voting records as a “political weapon” and then attempted to deflect by looking straight at the camera and encouraging Vermonters to register and vote.

More from VPR: A Guide To Voting In Vermont For The 2020 General Election

But the question of what they’ll do in the voting booth (or on their mail-in ballot) didn’t end there. Gray and Milne pressured one another to publicly announce their choices for governor and president. Eventually, in a nearly final debate question from Kinzel, Milne acknowledged that he’ll be voting for Scott for governor and writing in a name for president, while Gray said she’ll be voting the Democratic party line, including David Zuckerman for governor and Joe Biden for president.

Other questions in the hour-long debate focused on approaches to police de-escalation tactics, the Global Warming Solutions Act and whether undocumented workers should have access to government-sponsored health care.

More from VPR: 2020 General Election Debates: Candidates For Governor

The candidates spent a lot of their speaking time trying to differentiate themselves from their opponent, at times failing to answer the actual question in favor of trying to score points. Gray’s attempts to tie Milne to the national Republican Party largely failed, and Milne’s attempt to highlight inconsistencies in Gray’s voting record also didn’t land.

For Vermont voters trying to make a choice between two candidates who lack a legislative or state government record to fall back on, this debate gave more a sense of the candidate’s attack strategies than their actual policy preferences.

- Vermont Edition Host Jane Lindholm

Here's where each candidate said they stand on four key issues
1. The Role That Government Plays In Vermont

Q: When there’s a hurricane, we probably all want government assistance to help us recover from that natural disaster — but there’s some debate about some whether this is the case in other areas.

For instance: Should state government mandate paid family leave? Should state government require a higher minimum wage? And should state government make it possible to have universal child care at an affordable price? Or should these issues be left to the private sector, to determine if they’re going to be put into place?

A: Scott Milne

  • Milne said he is in favor of Gov. Phil Scott's proposal for a voluntary paid family leave program that allows Vermonters to opt in if they choose. 
  • He also noted that he is supportive of raising the minimum wage. 

A: Molly Gray

gray-role-govt.mp3
Listen to Molly Gray's response.

  • Gray said the biggest concern within small businesses in Vermont is their ability to retain and recruit employees due to lack of child care. 
  • She said some of the investments mentioned in the question, like universal child care, are the best economic investments at this time in order to grow the economy. 

2. Access To Health Care

Q: In November, the United States Supreme Court will hear a case that challenges the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as it’s sometimes known. It’s possible that the law will be struck down, leaving health care coverage in the jurisdiction of individual states. Would you support a plan that gives Vermonters the option of participating in a publicly financed health care system? Or do you believe that the private sector is best equipped to ensure that all Vermonters have access to affordable health care?

A: Molly Gray

gray-healthcare.mp3
Listen to Molly Gray's response.

  • Gray said she would slow the rising cost of health care by preventing insurance providers from threatening to cut services. 
  • She said investing in broadband is essential to make sure Vermonters have easy access to telemedicine.

A: Scott Milne

milne-healthcare.mp3
Listen to Scott Milne's response.

  • Milne said he would repeal Certificate of Need laws, which he said would save Vermonters millions of dollars per year.
  • Milne said he also supports the expansion of telemedicine.

3. Voting In The Past And Future

In this section, each candidate was able to ask questions to each other. Scott Milne asked Molly Gray about her voting history and who she plans to vote for in the Nov. 3 election. 

milne-gray-voting-debate.mp3
Listen to Scott Milne and Molly Gray debate over voting.

  • Later in the debate, Milne and Gray were both asked again who they are voting for in the upcoming election.
  • Milne said he would be writing in a candidate for the presidential election.
  • Gray said she would vote for Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman for governor, the Democratic nominee. She said she would vote for Joe Biden for president.

4. Vermont Police De-Escalation Tactics

Listener Question: Ida, an eighth-grader at Twinfield Union School asked:

Q: What is the best way to make sure that Vermont police use de-escalation tactics rather than violence?

A: Scott Milne

milne-police.mp3
Listen to Scott Milne's response.

  • Milne said he would like to build an Agency of Public Safety, which would house all law enforcement personnel and functions in Vermont. He said this would hold police more accountable.

A: Molly Gray

gray-police.mp3
Listen to Molly Gray's response.

  • Gray said she would want to make sure Vermont law enforcement are wearing body cameras and given proper de-escalation training. 
  • She also said she wants to invest in mental health and support services. 

Questions about how to vote in the upcoming general election? We've got answers, here. 

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