In Vermont and around the globe, the biggest story of 2020 was the COVID-19 pandemic. But there were other events that will have lasting implications for state policy and residents. It was a major election year for key statewide offices as candidates had to find ways to campaign in the midst of a pandemic that limited personal interactions.
In January 2020, Progressive Vermont Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman announced he would run for governor as a Democrat. “I will run in the Democratic primary. I will seek the write in on the Progressive ballot, and I'll run under both party names when I win those primaries in order to take on Governor Scott.”
Zuckerman faced former Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, who had begun her campaign for governor six months earlier. “I’m really looking forward to having robust conversations around the direction of the state, the challenges and needs we face and how we're going to work on good, strong democratic solutions to those challenges.”
Zuckerman won the primary and faced incumbent Republican Phil Scott. The governor announced in late May that he would run for a third two-year term but would not actively campaign until after the primary. Scott and Zuckerman debated and while mostly cordial occasionally tempers flared such as this exchange over energy policy during a September VTDigger forum. “We need to invest much more in weatherization. Under my earlier plan, that the Governor is not supportive of, we would be putting 20 million additional dollars per year into weatherization.”
Scott: “If you had this grand scheme you're the President of the Senate, you have a 24 to six majority. Why didn't you make it happen? I mean I had a lot of initiatives I put forward in the Legislature while I was the Lieutenant Governor. What happened?”
Zuckerman: “One is that the legislature pushed back against a number of your budgets including when you're going to cut schools…”
Scott: “Never a cut, never a cut, never a cut in schools...."
With Zuckerman leaving the Lieutenant Governor position, activist and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Brenda Siegel, a Democrat, sought the seat. “I’m really excited about the platform that comes with that position to really lift up people’s voices and push forward the issues that I have been working on.”
Democratic Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe also announced a run for Lieutenant Governor. “It’s a position that I would enjoy bringing the skills that I’ve developed here in the Senate to the statewide platform so I can focus exclusively on the issues that I care most about and help shape policy that way.”
In late January, political newcomer Democrat Molly Gray, an assistant attorney general, announced she was joining the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor. “I am running for three reasons. One, yes, to make sure Vermont’s rural communities are thriving. To ensure Vermont is the best place to raise and support families and to protect the land for future generations. All of that because we need to bring a generation back to Vermont and we need to keep a generation here.”
Gray’s campaign was well funded and organized and secured a number of high-profile endorsements. She went on to win the primary. Meanwhile Scott Milne, who lost a close campaign for governor in 2014 that was decided by the legislature, won the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor. “I’m the only candidate who knows what it’s like to run a small business. And frankly I think I’m the only candidate who can offer the important perspective of the many small businesses across Vermont and their employees who are struggling now.”
That set up the most contentious race on Vermont’s 2020 ballot. In a late September debate hosted by VPR/VTPBS some of the rancor was on display as Milne challenged Gray over her voting record. “You missed every election except two.”
Gray: “When I was serving overseas I completed a ballot and it could not be counted. The difference between you and me Scott is that I haven’t been using voting as a political weapon.”
Milne: “You’ve rarely been engaged in elections throughout your entire life. You’re running for the second highest elected office in Vermont.”
All 150 seats in the Vermont House were also up for election this year. House Speaker Democrat Mitzi Johnson lost her reelection bid. When the new legislative session begins on January 6th women will hold most of the high level seats in Montpelier. Gray will be Lieutenant Governor, Becca Balint will be the Senate Pro Tem and Jill Krowinski is the incoming House Speaker. All are Democrats.