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Vermont Gubernatorial Candidates Debate

Vermont Statehouse
WAMC/Pat Bradley
The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier

The candidates from Vermont’s four major parties running for governor met Tuesday evening to debate.

Democratic incumbent Governor Peter Shumlin, Republican Scott Milne, Libertarian Dan Feliciano and the Liberty Union’s Peter Diamondstone fielded questions during the 90-minute debatebroadcast live on Vermont Public Radio. The questions began with the state’s problematic health care marketplace, and moved on to issues including jobs and the economy, energy, and property taxes.  The debate included questions from moderators Bob Kinzel and Jane Lindholm, constituents and a segment that allowed the candidates to quiz each other.

Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis believes the debate did little to change the dynamics of the campaign.  “What we saw was a highly professional incumbent candidate, Peter Shumlin, making the same talking points that he’s been making on the stump and in press conferences and in speeches for the last couple of months. We had a Republican candidate who it’s pretty clear is a first-time candidate and is no where near as knowledgeable on the issues as either Governor Shumlin or the Libertarian candidate Dan Feliciano.  Feliciano is clearly trying to appeal to voters who are conservative on the issues and argue that he is more in sympathy with their views than Milne, who really has not said very much about his views.”

His observations were evident throughout the debate.

Kinzel pressed the Republican for details about his health care plan, but Scott Milne instead criticized incumbent Shumlin’s health care reform efforts.  “The way that the Shumlin administration has managed the health care system is an insight into mismanagement. It’s absolutely implausible that we’re going to be moving to single payer in 2017.”  Moderator Bob Kinzel pressed “I don’t have a clue of what you do want. Are you supporting the status quo?”  Milne responded  “I wouldn’t go so strong as to say I don’t like single payer. Imagining that all of everything going to, from the private sector to the government is going to fix things seems to me to be delusional.”

During the interchange between candidates, Gov. Shumlin asked Libertarian Dan Feliciano why he was better than the Republican candidate, against whom he had mounted a primary write-in challenge. “Basically I’m a small government guy who knows how to cut spending and has done so in the past with a deep health care experience.”

Shumlin listed a number of policies he has successfully passed during his tenure, including universal pre-k, a minimum wage increase, and the state’s new GMO labeling law. He turned to Republican Milne and asked which policies he would try to repeal. Milne took the opportunity to criticize the administration, which led to a short but abrasive exchange.  “The GMO labeling bill is a good example of a radical, progressive management of a bill. I find it hypocritical that you’re holding big food companies to a higher level of transparency than you’re willing to hold your own administration.”   Shumlin: “So of all that list, you would repeal GMO labeling?”    Milne: “I didn’t say I’d repeal it.”   Shumlin: “You’re against it but you’re for it?”   Milne: “No and I’m not doing sound-bite flip-flop stuff. What I said very clearly is you managed that bill in a radical progressive way. You could’ve gotten the same results in a much more business friendly way.”

Despite the 90-minute discussion, Eric Davis says voters learned little from the debate.  “Three of the big themes of the campaign were all articulated by the candidates.  Shumlin wants voters to look at his record and what he believes are the accomplishments of his last four years, as well as his plans for the next two particularly regarding single payer.  Milne says Shumlin has been trying to do too much too fast and the state needs to slow down.  But beyond that Milne has very little to say. And Dan Feliciano has a well articulated Libertarian/Conservative set of policy positions and is trying to appeal to the relatively small number of Vermont voters  who share those positions.”

Audio from the debate is courtesy of Vermont Public Radio.
The seven candidates running for Vermont governor include independents Emily Peyton, Chris Ericson and Bernard Peters.

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