Republican Gov. Phil Scott met Democrat opponent Brenda Siegel for a gubernatorial debate Thursday evening, and the two candidates offered completing visions of Vermont’s future.
Scott, a nationally popular governor seeking his fourth term in office, is largely predicted to win in November. However, Siegel, an activist on housing and substance abuse issues and the former executive director of the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, seized upon the opportunity to plead for a slew of liberal causes, even as Scott used the debate to discuss his administration’s achievements.
Siegel is for universal multi-state primary health care
Speaking on the issue of health care, Siegel said she is for universal primary health care, meaning the public would collectively pay for everyone’s visit when it comes to primary physician visits.
“One of the things that we need to do is to make sure that we pass and have signed universal primary care, and that should include dental, vision, hearing and mental health,” she said. “In addition to that, we can build a coalition with the states around us to try to get to that single-payer model.”
Siegel also targeted hospital administrations as potentially contributing to the high insurance premium rate hikes.
“I think a lot of times the staff of these hospitals are not paid fairly while the administration has costs that are way above, and we need to make sure that these costs are clear and that they are going to the care for our patients,” she said.
Scott says we can expand childcare without raising taxes
Each candidate for governor commented on how they might get childcare costs for the average Vermonter down to 10% or less of their total income. Scott said this is an attainable goal without raising taxes.
“We need to get to our kids earlier, we need to help them in pre-K and early care, and we’ve done that,” Scott said. “During the pandemic, we proposed and went forward with $12 million in relief for centers, $15 million for childcare financial assistance to Vermonters in need, and I worked with Senator Sanders across the aisle so to speak to develop afterschool programs.”
Sticking to his fiscally conservative perspective, Scott added “we’re going to have to do without in some other areas,” whenever resources are committed to a large cause such as this one.
In contrast, Siegel argued that childcare is too much of a priority to rule out raising taxes.
Siegel’s activism on the housing crisis
Siegel shared a story about her activism over housing shortages in Vermont, including a nearly month-long stay on the Statehouse front steps to protest the expiration of housing subsidies.
“I stood on the Statehouse steps and said that I would not leave until the governor fully reinstated the program that emergency-housed people experiencing homelessness,” she said. “I did not know that I would be there for 27 nights and 28 days, and despite my empathy for the issue I was vastly unprepared for how my body and mind would begin to decline.”
She says her administration would prioritize affordable housing and she emphasized that the crisis started before COVID-19 and it “has been barreling at us for a long time.”
Scott is not for new safe-injection sites
Regarding the opioid crisis, Scott argued that his pre-pandemic opioid abuse mitigation strategy was working well and that prevention, treatment, recovery and enforcement are all components of that approach. He also said he is opposes the use of safe-injection sites for needle drugs. One such site exists in Burlington.
“If I had to choose between a safe-injection site in one city in our state and a place like Jenna’s House that really is doing good work, then I’m going to choose Jenna’s house,” he said.
In contrast, Siegel argued overdoses don’t happen at safe injection sites, and she supports having more of them.
Also on the subject of drug abuse, Siegel shared that she lost a nephew and a brother over to drug-related addictions.
“And with 20 years between then, we still could not find the supports that we needed in our state so that they could survive,” she said. “What I know is that we have to focus on harm-reduction first, treatment/recovery available on-demand, including medically assisted treatment on demand, dual-diagnosis support, and criminal justice reform.”
Both candidates committed to mitigating climate change
When pressed on what he would do to fight climate change, Scott said that he invested $200 million from the federal government for this cause.
“We’re investing in EVs, in EV charging stations, we took the VW settlement money early on when we received that and used that for charging stations all up and down the corridors,” he said.
Siegel, when answering a question about what she would do to ensure carbon-reduction targets are met in years to come, expressed frustration that major energy policy decisions are still restricted to legislative bodies that must work with the governor’s office.
“One of the biggest concerns I have is that the legislature has to govern by two-thirds majority with this current administration,” she said. “And it’s something we have to change.”
Siegel says police must earn community respect
Each candidate was asked how they would handle challenges facing law enforcement such as rising crime rates and low staffing. While Scott suggested he will continue to strongly support police, Siegel said law enforcement should do more to earn respect in the communities they serve.
“Because when you really respect the community that you are in, the community respects you back,” she said.
Siegel continued that public safety should branch more into social services.
“In addition to that, make sure that all of our plans for public safety include the root cause and the solutions,” she said. “So that means that we have to have folks who have the mental health care that they need; we need to make sure that the substance use disorder treatment is available not just in Chittenden County, but in every corner of the state.”
The full debate can be viewed online here.