Republican Governor Phil Scott and challenger Keith Stern faced off last night during a forum in advance of Vermont’s August 14th primary.
The forum between the Republican candidates for Vermont governor was moderated by VTDigger editor Anne Galloway. Candidate Keith Stern of North Springfield describes himself as a conservative Republican. Phil Scott is completing his first term as governor. Early in the forum, Stern addressed his key issue: cutting government waste. “I hear almost every day from somebody saying we’re moving out, we can’t, we just can’t afford to stay here any longer. I mean it it can’t continue. We’re too high on property taxes, income tax, sales tax. We can do much better just by reducing the waste in government.”
Scott noted he has proposed budgets with no new taxes or fees. “I believe that Vermonters deserve a government that runs efficiently, that lives within its means without raising taxes and fees and where we continue to ah to grow the economy, make Vermont more affordable and protect the most vulnerable.”
Earlier this year, Governor Scott signed bills that enacted gun restrictions for the first time in the state. Moderator Anne Galloway asked about polls showing the governor’s popularity has dropped as a result. “Could you tell us whether you regret signing the bill?”
Scott: “I went into that with my eyes wide open. That was about the time of Parkland, 17 individuals that lost their life as a result. And um we had an eerily similar situation here in Fair Haven if it wasn’t for one individual one young woman who came forward with a text message. So I chose action over inaction. I regret disappointing people. But at the same time I had to look myself in the mirror and know that watching what the governor of Florida was going through, going to 17 funerals, and if that ever happened in Vermont I’m not sure at that point in time I could say that’d we’d done all we could. And so I decided to take action.”
Stern’s response led to an animated reply from Governor Scott.
Stern: “Parkland and the kid in Fair Haven it wasn’t a gun issue. It was a mental health issue. That hasn’t been addressed and that should be addressed. Why are we not addressing that problem? I mean if you really want to take care of the gun violence go where the problem is. Don’t go looking for a solution to a non-problem. Taking away gun rights from legal gun owners law abiding citizens is not a solution to anything.”
Scott: “First of all we didn’t take any gun rights away from any individuals. These gun safety measures were something that lived within the Constitution don’t violate the Second Amendment. I’m a believer in the Second Amendment. I have a gun safe full of guns. I’ve been hunting since I was 11 years old, took my NRA course at 12. Mental health is a good issue. I agree with you on that. But we are taking action on that. We’ve done a lot with mental health. We have a long ways to go with that. To say we haven’t taken any action I don’t think is accurate.”
The two also clashed over taxes and how the state should be spending money. Scott says his administration has proved that economic growth can happen without raising taxes or fees. "Even though we weren’t proposing raising any taxes and fees we were spending $82 million more with organic growth in revenues. So it proved that if you invest more in the economy, if you try and bring more people in, keep more people here that you can prosper. It isn’t all about raising taxes and fees.”
Galloway: “Keith you’ve talked a lot about cutting taxes. How would you suggest that the state invest in the future if…”
Stern “Oh that would be investing in the future. Absolutely if you can make it affordable for people to stay, for businesses to survive it’s going to grow. Things like putting in charging stations for EV’s for out of state people is that the taxpayers’ responsibility to do things like that? Not in my estimation.”
Scott: “Creating charging stations when we have so much tourism that we count on here. That’s one of our largest industries in Vermont. A lot of those cars we’re seeing coming across the border taking advantage of buying our products here in Vermont and staying at our inns and restaurants and so what we need to do is make sure that we’re prepared for that and cater to that. And we did it with Volkswagen money not taxpayer money.”
A forum with the Democratic gubernatorial candidates is scheduled for Thursday, August 2nd.