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Candidates for governor square off in Rutland

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2016-07-20

By Gordon Dritschilo, as seen in the Times Argus: http://timesargus.com/article/20160720/THISJUSTIN/160729969

RUTLAND — It was sometimes hard to draw distinctions between Vermont’s gubernatorial candidates Tuesday night.

Democrats Matt Dunne, Peter Galbraith and Sue Minter lined up with Republicans Bruce Lisman and Phil Scott onstage at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland for a forum organized by the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

Moderator Chris Graff, former Associated Press bureau chief for Vermont, read off questions and each candidate was given a minute to answer. There were no rebuttals or cross-questioning between candidates.

The format did not result in much detailed policy discussion, and while many of the questions were fairly specific, a number of the answers were only tangentially related.

The debate was focused on “Vermont’s economic future in a time of climate change.”

All five candidates said they believed climate change is real — though Scott hedged on whether it was caused by humans.

There seemed to be a general consensus against large-scale wind development on ridgelines and in favor of greater local input on renewable energy development.

Everyone on stage said they wanted to support entrepreneurship and energy innovation. They all pledged to hold Entergy financially accountable for the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.

“I will be as tough as I’ve been as a diplomat dealing with warlords in the Balkans,” Galbraith said.

The most specific disagreements of the evening broke down along party lines, with the Democrats extolling the virtues of cap-and-trade programs — although Galbraith said carbon pricing was something that Vermont could not do alone and needed to be national. What Vermont could do, he said, was promote efficiency and conservation.

“We get 10 times the carbon reduction from efficiency and reduction than anything else we do,” he said. “The only reason we don’t invest in it is ... then utilities don’t make money from the kilowatt not generated.”

The Republicans, on the other hand, cautioned against them, with Lisman saying most Vermonters he spoke to were opposed and Scott saying they would hurt the state’s economic competitiveness.

The Democrats were more open to new taxation than the Republicans. Dunne and Minter talked about determining the state’s needs and then finding the revenues, which Galbraith said he had found $28 million in tax loopholes he would close to fund college education for all Vermonters. Lisman and Scott talked about Vermont overspending and Vermonters being overtaxed.

Galbraith repeatedly returned to the importance of developing broadband, Dunne talked about developing electric car infrastructure and Minter proposed a rural version of Uber, a ride service, while Lisman expressed a general wariness of such schemes.

“Be cautious about going forward with innovation that may cost more than most people can afford,” he said.

Each candidate made an effort to stake out some sort of space.

In addition to broadband, Galbraith repeatedly referred to his goal of a $15-an-hour minimum wage and anger at large corporations.

Minter repeatedly brought up her experience, in particular mentioning that she learned a great deal while fighting to get Vermont more out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene — though this gave Scott the opening to get off one of the evening’s few quips.

“Sounds like we need to get some of those FEMA folks over to talk to the Legislature about the word ‘no,’” he said.

Lisman’s theme was that Vermonters feel abandoned or betrayed by their government.

“I think Vermonters want a change,” he said. “I am the guy who hasn’t been in government.”

Scott talked about finding ways to help businesses grow.

“We are inventive by nature and we need to market that more,” he said.

Dunne talked about ways Vermont could lead the nation and how investment in efficiency and green technology will help everyone. He said Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign changed politics forever by connecting with voters who felt alone.

“We have that chance to be the conscience of our country,” he said. “What he brought to the country was the chance to know we are not alone.”