From left, Democratic candidates for governor Ethan Sonneborn, Brenda Siegel, Christine Hallquist and James Ehlers
The four Democratic candidates for Vermont governor struggled to distinguish themselves Tuesday during a 30-minute forum hosted by WCAX-TV. The format discouraged debate, and none of the candidates, standing elbow-to-elbow at a counter inside the South Burlington studio, went out of their way to engage in one.
In the Republican gubernatorial debate that followed, Gov. Phil Scott gave a well-practiced performance, dubbing himself a “fiscal hawk,” while challenger Keith Stern accused him of “betraying our trust and breaking campaign promises.”
A few highlights from both:
Democrat Christine Hallquist, former CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, said she would not pursue a carbon tax, even though she reiterated her stance that charging for carbon pollution would be the most effective way to reduce emission of the greenhouse gas. Without offering specifics, she pledged to reduce carbon levels without a tax. “It’s not going to cost more money because we won’t let it cost more money,” Hallquist said.
James Ehlers, a Democrat and executive director of Lake Champlain International, was again asked to explain old social media posts about abortion. Ehlers maintained that he’s always supported abortion rights, but when pressed, said, “It’s reasonable to question certain late-term abortion practices or live-birth situations and still advocate for a woman’s right to choose. Liking abortion and supporting a woman’s right to choose are not one and the same.”
Democrat Brenda Siegel, executive director of the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, had a ready response when questioned about her lack of political experience. “I’m not pirouetting down the street in Brattleboro,” she said, casting her small organization as an economic driver for the area.
The final Democratic candidate, Ethan Sonneborn, who is 14, was similarly prepared when asked about his age. “I think Vermonters should take me seriously because I havepractical progressive ideas and I happen to be 14, not the other way around.”
Republican candidate for governor Keith Stern, left, and Gov. Phil Scott
On the Republican side, Scott glided through his second debate with Stern; the two also met last week. Asked about his role in recently taking the state to the brink of a government shutdown, Scott responded without a pause: “I’m not gonna apologize for being a fiscal conservative.”
Stern, who’s running to the right of the governor, suggested that he would cut state spending by getting rid of all deputy commissioner and assistant secretary positions. He stumbled in response to a question about how he’d address racial disparities in police searches, saying, “We will keep monitoring the figures and if it doesn’t seem like it’s fair, we’ll have to do something about it.”
Stern was better prepared to go after Scott in his closing statement: "The governor has betrayed our trust. He has broken campaign promises. He takes fellow Republicans for granted. He makes deals with Democrats and Progressives to protect his political career."