Vermont gears up for mid-summer primary for state offices
MONTPELIER >> A construction company chief who is also a part-time racecar driver and a part-time lieutenant governor is vying for the Republican gubernatorial nomination against a retired Wall Street executive, while three former lawmakers compete for Democrats' support in Vermont's upcoming Aug. 9 primary.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, of Berlin, is looking to move up to the top spot after serving as No. 2 since 2010. He has sought to carve out a stance as a moderate Republican in one of the bluest states in the country and is putting improvements to the state's business climate and economy at the center of his agenda.
"Our economy has been growing at about 2 percent each year and low- and middle-income wages aren't really growing at all. I will not propose or sign a budget that grows faster than the economy — or wages — in the previous year," Scott said.
His stances against higher taxes and for easing some regulations worry low-income advocates and environmentalists, but Scott insists that "we cannot tax our way back to a stronger economy or build a strong economy though business mandates."
Scott, who turns 58 a few days before the primary, faces Bruce Lisman, a Burlington native and political newcomer who spent his career on Wall Street and was a senior executive at the Bear Stearns investment house until it collapsed at the beginning of the Great Recession.
Lisman tends to take a more conservative line than Scott — or at least more distant from those of the Democrats in firm control of the Legislature. Scott favors "fixing" Act 46, the 2015 law, under which the state is pushing local school districts to combine into larger ones for efficiency. Lisman on Thursday called for the law's outright repeal and supporting school choice.
Lisman also would put a 2 percent cap on spending growth — a little more than half what it's been in recent years. He wants to audit the state Medicaid health insurance program and tighten state contracting practices.
On the Democratic side, the three candidates bring a range of qualifications to the contest.
— Former state Rep. and Sen. Matt Dunne, 46, has worked in recent years as a Vermont-based community outreach executive for Google, and headed the federal AmericaCorps-VISTA program during the administration of President Bill Clinton.
— Former state Sen. Peter Galbraith, 65, has worked in international diplomacy for the U.S. State Department, including a stint as ambassador to Croatia.
— Former Rep. Sue Minter, 55, most recently served as Vermont's secretary of transportation and served for a time as head of the state's recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Irene of 2011.
All three are solid liberals, with much overlap between their campaign platforms, but there are different areas of emphasis, and Galbraith alone is outspoken in his criticism of large-scale wind power projects on Vermont ridgelines.
"As governor, I will ask the legislature to protect Vermont's ridgelines by banning new industrial wind projects," Galbraith says.
Minter and Galbraith both have called for universal background checks for gun purchases and a ban on assault-style weapons in the state, while Dunne says he supports background checks but argues that a weapons ban should be left to the federal government.
Dunne is pushing for the state to step up anti-poverty programs, with affordable housing at the center of the agenda. Minter points to education — and promotes a plan for two-years' free tuition at Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College — as the best pathway out of poverty.
H. Brooke Page and Cris Ericson — also-rans in prior elections — also are on the Democratic primary ballot.
Secretary of State Jim Condos said strong early-voting totals so far point to a higher turnout than one might expect than during the peak summer vacation period. Primaries for both Republicans and Democrats for governor, and a three-way race among Democrats for lieutenant governor, appear to be generating interest similar to that in 2010, when five Democrats vied for their party's gubernatorial nomination, Condos said.
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