MONTPELIER -- The three Republican candidates for governor disagreed in a debate Friday over the push for universal health care, but agreed that marijuana should be legalized.

Steve Berry of Wolcott, Scott Milne of Pomfret and Emily Peyton of Putney, all on this coming Tuesday's primary ballot, appeared on Vermont Public Radio to air their views about those and a range of other topics.

Berry and Peyton complained that Milne, who has the backing of party leaders like former Gov. Jim Douglas, had been anointed as the presumptive nominee, and Peyton criticized the media for giving her too little attention.

On marijuana, all three agreed Vermont should move to legalize it, something which is expected to be debated when lawmakers return in January. Peyton and Berry spoke strongly in favor; Milne said, "If a bill reaches my desk from the Legislature to legalize marijuana, I will do that."

One of the biggest issues in Vermont during the next two years is whether and how to complete a push for a universal, publicly funded health care system called for in legislation passed in 2011 and strongly backed by the two-term incumbent, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Berry spoke emphatically against the idea, which some have labeled "single-payer" health care. He pointed to the Department of Veterans' Affairs medical system, which has come under fire in recent months for long waits some patients endure before getting care and for other problems.

"You can see all the travesty happening there .


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.. It's going to be the same with any single-payer (system)," Berry said.

Milne said he was trying to keep an open mind about health care until all the facts are in, including how backers of the new system would pay for it and what specific benefits it would include. He has come under fire from some Republicans and from Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano for not taking a stronger stand against the Shumlin plan, but defended that stance again Friday.

Feliciano, who is on the ballot as a Libertarian, has been seeking write-in votes from Republicans. Host Bob Kinzel said VPR had rejected Feliciano's request to participate in Friday's debate because he had not gathered the 500 signatures needed to have his name placed on the Republican ballot.

While Shumlin's health plan would end employers' role in providing coverage, Milne said a continued role for employers may be the best route. "If it turns out to be more practical to have it based on employment or have employment be a primary part of it, we'll come forward and advocate that. If not, we'll come up with a different strategy," he said.

Peyton said she doesn't "want to be part of a society that is so inhumane as to leave sick people on the side of the road." She said the biggest problem in health care is "enormous overcharging the by businesses in medicine," called for a free health clinic in every community and free tuition for those studying to work in health care.