TUNBRIDGE, Vermont — Vermont’s two main gubernatorial candidates went head to head in their first debate of the general election season Friday, with each making their pitches about why they were in the best position to help the state move forward.
With a background from the Tunbridge World’s Fair of squawking geese and bleating lambs, Republican Gov. Phil Scott said his vision remains making Vermont more affordable for the people who live here.
In Scott’s first two years, there have been no increases in taxes or fees, income taxes were cut by $30 million, and his policies prevented $71 million in property tax increases and eliminated the tax on Social Security for low- and moderate-income Vermonters, he said.
“We’re doing great work, the right thing,” Scott said during the debate that was part of The Dave Gram Show on WDEV radio and held under a gazebo overlooking the fairgrounds as it came to life on a Friday morning. “We’re doing the hard work, a joint effort of the team I put together. We just have more work to do.”
Scott’s Democratic challenger, Christine Hallquist, a former utility executive who quit her job to run for governor, said more needs to be done to improve the lives of ordinary Vermonters, people she believes have been left behind by the economic progress the state has seen over the past several years.
“We can talk about all the jobs that have been created, but if people aren’t seeing real growth it’s not benefiting them,” said Hallquist.
The debate, with pauses for commercial breaks, lasted just over an hour. It focused on a host of issues, with both candidates offering their competing visions for the economy and rural development, education, the environment and renewable energy.
It was generally polite, but their different philosophies did show through.
“You seem to be lured to just that natural, knee-jerk reaction of raising taxes to solve every problem; have you found any ways to actually save money?” Scott asked Hallquist during a part of the debate when the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions.”
“Come on, Phil,” Hallquist answered. “I’m a businessperson. I’ve been around a long time, worked with a lot of businesses and I ran an electric utility where we managed to keep rates flat for five years straight. … A good businessperson doesn’t just do cost control, because cost control puts you out of business. You’ve got to have a long-term vision of how you are going to grow your economy.”
The Vermont governor’s race is getting more attention than usual from outside the state because of Hallquist’s position as the first openly transgender candidate to win a major-party nomination for governor.
While it was not part of the issues debate, Hallquist did discuss her gender identity. She said she decided to run for governor in January after hearing Muslim Girls Making Change, a slam poetry group from the Burlington area in which the young women use poetry to spread their message about being Muslim in America.
“They talked about what it was like to face harassment every day at school because of who they are. And I cried,” Hallquist said “That’s when I made the decision to run because I could certainly understand and relate to that, because I was different when I was growing up.”