Vermont incumbent governor Phil Scott and Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist squared off on Oct. 10 at the Paramount Theater in Rutland for a second debate of the 2018 mid-term election season. The debate was moderated by VTDigger editor Mark Johnson.
“We’re going to be asking the candidates a series of questions,” he said. “Most of them are going to be coming from our readers, who sent us close to 100 questions during the week.”
The questions for the evening covered several topics, including Scott’s former business, DuBois Construction, which he was a co-owner of until he sold it when he took office. He recently offered to finance the business, he said, so that it could stay open – and said he wouldn’t support not permitting its access to state contracts.
“I can’t go back,” he said. “I signed a contract. I can’t go back and say to DuBois Construction, ‘you can’t do any state work.’ That would be a violation of the contract. It just couldn’t happen, in that respect.”
Scott also noted that he has no connection with DuBois construction at this time, and that he just serves as the bank so that they can continue to do business. He also noted that every step taken regarding the company has been done transparently.
Hallquist, a former CEO for the Vermont Electric Cooperative, says that even though she did not start as the CEO, she has a long history of leadership.
“You know, I really believe that you need to look at a resume and a background of a person,” she said.
She said she has been a member of her local school board, chaired the Sterling Area Services Mental Health Board, and has served as the Hyde Park town meeting moderator for the last five years.
“Certainly, I do believe my leadership qualifies me,” she said. “Of course, Phil Scott’s been in office for 18 years, so I think Vermonters have a real choice.”
Hallquist noted that she did vote for Scott, and said she was disappointed. She also noted that running for governor was not in her career plans.
“I’m in this race because it’s an obligation to the people of the state of Vermont,” she said.
The duo also sparred over the minimum wage, with Hallquist in favor of raising it, and Scott opposing a hike.
They also discussed climate change. Scott broke ranks with most members of his party when it came to the issue of climate change.
“As I’ve said, consistently, over the last three years, climate change is real,” he said. “We know things are changing. We can’t debate that. And we have the means to do something about that.”
Scott said that, in his tenure, Vermont joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, and created the Vermont Climate Action Commission – and that he’s committed to 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
“I believe we can do it,” he said. “It’s going to take some technology changes. Sixty percent of our carbon emissions is with transportation. So, we’re going to have to transition to electric vehicles.”
According to Hallquist, she spent two-and-a-half years working with the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation to define how Vermont will go 90 percent carbon free by 2050. She also said that to go carbon free, wind is necessary. She also said that she understands the problems that putting wind turbine on ridgelines causes, citing that she led the Vermont Electric Cooperative’s wind project.
“(The) governor says we don’t need wind,” she said. “I’ve got news for you. We’ve got to grow wind in order to achieve our goals, because the wind blows like crazy in the winter, but it doesn’t in the summer when the sun’s shining.”
But Scott hit back, saying he’s not against wind power.
“I’m not opposed to wind development in other states or other countries. I’m opposed to having wind development on our ridgelines,” he said to applause from the audience.
Another topic was the issue of the state government forcing the consolidation of schools if communities that are not able to come up with a solution on their own.
“The rural school is the heart of the community,” Hallquist said. “We’re going to grow this state, and we’re going to put people back in those schools.”
One of Hallquist’s plans to grow the state is to connect homes and businesses in Vermont with fiber optic cable – including in schools. She also said that closing schools is detrimental to the growth of the population in Vermont.
“You close those schools, and people aren’t going to move to those communities,” Hallquist said.
According to Scott, however, school population has been declining for the past couple decades.
“I know you don’t want to hear this,” he said to Hallquist. “We have lost 30,000 students in the last 20 years. Three students a day. That continues. That decline continues.”
Vermont’s education system costs the state $1.7 billion on education, Scott said. The majority of that – 90 percent, he said – is spent in K-12 learning. Five percent is spent on higher education, and five percent is spent in early education. This, for Scott, can’t continue.
“We can’t continue down this path. We can’t keep throwing money into an infrastructure that isn’t working,” he said. “That’s why I want to go to this cradle to career continuum of learning.”
According to Scott, the investment needs to be made in early childhood development- in the stages that, he says, children learn the most. He also noted that Act 46, which offers incentives for communities, specifically schools, to merge in order to meet the state’s goals, was not his idea.
“This was passed by a Democratic legislature, with a Democratic governor,” he said. “So, it’s not my idea, but at least they took that step.”
While Scott and Hallquist were the only two candidates debating on stage, there are other candidates running for governor. One of them is independent candidate Charles Laramie.
“I served in the Navy and the Air Force,” he said at the beginning of the debate, before being escorted out by security. “I swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the very rights that I swore to defend, and defended… I’m being denied those rights.”
Laramie said in an interview following the debate that he had attempted to be permitted to be allowed to debate alongside Hallquist and Scott – but was denied.
“Vermonters get to choose who their candidates are, and if they don’t get a chance to see them all, then they don’t have the opportunity to make a rational decision,” he said outside after the debate.
Fellow independent Trevor Barlow was also at the debate. Unlike Laramie, however, he kept quiet.
“It’s just the way I am. I’m not about drama, I’m about solutions,” he said. “I think there’s a time and a place for outrage on some level. I just don’t feel like this is the time nor the place.”
According to Barlow, he, personally does not feel shut out from the debate.
“We were shut out, and I don’t think it’s right,” he said. “But me as an individual, I think there are other ways I can get around it.”
In addition to Barlow and Laramie, who were campaigning directly after the debate outside of the Paramount Theater, a few individuals were gathered, protesting the exclusion of the other candidates. One held a sign that listed all the candidates not invited to the debate. A few gathered around a chalkboard that said, “What does civil discourse mean to you?” One of the responses listed said, in capital letters, “Open debates to all candidates!”
Back inside as the debate was concluding, Hallquist, reiterated in her closing statement how disappointed she was in Scott’s leadership.
“It appears that we’re focused on this model of command and control rather than community and collaboration,” she said.
For Scott, however, his focus from the beginning of his tenure as governor, has been to grow the economy and make Vermont more affordable, citing how taxes have not been raised under his administration, and how income taxes were cut as well.
“Giving our kids the best education possible is part of our mission,” he said. “And we’re making progress.”