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First Vermont congressional debate held for 2022 primary

Screenshot from VTDigger congressional debate
Screenshot from VTDigger congressional debate

The four women running for Vermont’s Congressional seat met for their first debate Wednesday.

Democratic Congressman Peter Welch is seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by the forthcoming retirement of Democrat Patrick Leahy, opening the at-large House seat.

Vermont has never sent a woman to Congress and the only declared candidates so far are women. Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray, Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint, Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale and former congressional staffer Sianay Chase Clifford are all Democrats.

The first question at the virtual debate sponsored by VT Digger asked if the U.S. should be doing more and under what under circumstances should U.S. armed forces intervene directly in Ukraine. Gray was the first respondent and after using her time to note she is a trained international attorney and nations are doing what they can to prevent World War III, moderator and VTDigger Political reporter Sarah Mearhoff asked a follow-up question.

“I do not support a no-fly zone," Gray said. "I believe that we’re taking the right approach.”

“Just a follow-up," Mearhoff asked. "Could you please answer the question under what circumstances should the U.S. military intervene?”

“I don’t believe it’s a decision that the U.S. should make alone but at this point I would not support putting the U.S. military on the ground in Ukraine," responded Gray.

Balint says the U.S. is not doing all it can and needs to continue to disrupt supply chains to the Russian military and banking systems.

“We need to make sure that we are also sanctioning their ally Belarus and to your question is there a time at which we should intervene? I think that time may come if they use chemical weapons," said Balint.

Vermont is an agricultural state and the candidates were asked what initiatives, policies or legislation they would propose at the federal level to assure family farms are viable. Chase Clifford said reauthorization of the 2023 Farm Bill will be one of the first challenges faced in Congress.

“Not only do we need to make sure that the Farm Bill is also a climate resiliency bill and add an explicit climate title we also need to insure that our small farms have the ability to compete and access credit," said Clifford.

Senator Ram Hinsdale noted she has worked on agricultural measures in the state legislature.

“Electing me to Congress is really showing Washington that there’s something exciting happening in rural America. We need to invest in local purchasing," Ram Hinsdale said. "When we look at forest products and farms we’re still behind on ensuring that we’re valuing Vermont-made products first and foremost.”

A portion of the debate allowed the candidates to quiz each other. In one exchange Ram Hinsdale asked Gray if there was an uphill battle during her year in office that materially helped state residents that she alone could take credit for. Gray responded that her concern was assuring that Vermonters would have a voice in Montpelier.

“My hope and goal was to, one, make sure I was doing my job and doing it well," Gray said. "Two, making sure that Vermonters felt they had an office that was open, that their voice was heard.”

“Senator Ram Hinsdale," asks Mearhoff, "do you have a follow-up?”

“I do actually, Ram Hinsdale responded. "Lieutenant Governor you wrote a ‘Recover Stronger’ report from your tour around the state. Did you do anything to follow up after that and can you name the bill?”

“I spent, and I’m so proud of this work, a day per week in a different county in the state, showing up, listening, engaging with hundreds of Vermonters," Gray said. "And then I sat down and write an old fashioned report highlighting five different issue areas. And my hope is as the legislative session wraps up I think the big deliverables will be workforce, will be housing.”

In the last segment of the debate, the moderator posed rapid fire questions to the four candidates.

“Which committees in the House you would like to serve on? Senator Balint?”

“My first choice is the Commerce Committee," Balint said.

“Miss Chase Clifford?”

“Financial Services and Agriculture," Clifford answered.

“Lieutenant Governor Gray?”

“Education and Labor," Gray said.

“And Senator Ram Hinsdale?”

“Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce," Ram Hinsdale responded.

“Next question," from moderator Sarah Mearhoff, "have you used a firearm and do you own firearms? Senator Ram Hinsdale?”

“Yes and yes," Ram Hinsdale responded.

“Senator Balint?”

“No and no," Balint said.

“Miss Chase Clifford?”

“No and no," Clifford said.

“Lieutenant Governor Gray?”

“I grew up on a farm so yes," Gray said. "And no I do not own a firearm and we do not have a firearm in the house.”

Vermont’s primary election is August 9th.

Audio is courtesy of VTDigger.

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