Christine Hallquist making a point while Gov. Phil Scott listens during their debate at the Tunbridge World's Fair
The two major-party candidates for Vermont governor debated the issues Friday morning for the first time in the general election campaign. Republican Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist held a civil, issues-based discussion that occasionally produced some sharp words — but only over policy disagreements. Personal attacks were notably absent.
The two came off as knowledgeable and articulate, and offered clear policy agendas for Vermont. Hallquist, the first openly transgender person to win a major party's nomination for governor, referred to her gender identity only once or twice; Scott never mentioned it at all.
The debate was broadcast live on WDEV Radio's Dave Gram Show, and is available via podcast. It took place in an open-air gazebo at the Tunbridge World's Fair, with occasional sounds from animals and equipment in the background. Vendors touting a cornucopia of deep-fried delights filled the surrounding area. Gram and VTDigger.org founder and editor Anne Galloway served as moderators.
The two candidates often agreed — at least in terms of policy goals. Both advocated for increased job opportunities and boosting the state's population, especially among younger people and families with children. Both endorsed Vermont's goal of 90 percent renewable energy by the year 2050. Both emphasized the importance of improving water quality in Vermont's lakes and waterways. They both oppose the idea of a carbon tax, although Scott's opposition is absolute and Hallquist says she opposes it "for now."
Where they differed was on how to achieve their goals. Scott continued to repeat his handful of core talking points: affordability, no new taxes or fees, growing the economy and reining in the cost of public education. He did not specifically promise to oppose any additional taxes or fees in his second term (should he be elected), but he made clear his general opposition to raising new revenue.
Hallquist advocated for public investment as a way to make progress, and left herself open to tax hikes when necessary. "I'm not afraid to raise taxes for a good purpose," she said. "I will find a responsible way to pay for it, but we need paid family leave."
There were some clear policy differences. This year, Scott vetoed Democratic bills to establish paid family leave and hike the state's minimum wage to $15 per hour over six years, and he still opposes those ideas. He said the state is "not ready" for full legalization of recreational marijuana. Hallquist, on the other hand, said she would legalize marijuana sales "as quickly as possible." She called the current situation unsafe. "People don't know where their marijuana comes from or if it was sprayed with pesticides," she said. "A tax-and-regulate system is much safer."
Scott complained about the high cost of public education, and insisted that an undefined amount of public school funding should be diverted into early-childhood and post-secondary education, When Galloway asked if he has presented a specific plan, he replied, "Not exactly, but I've talked about it."
Hallquist criticized Scott for his top-down approach. "We should be working collaboratively with local schools," she said. "Barking orders from Montpelier doesn't work."
On federally mandated waterways cleanup, Hallquist expressed support for Treasurer Beth Pearce's plan, which would establish a per-parcel fee across Vermont to pay the estimated $25 million-per-year cost over the next 20 years.
Scott said he has a funding source in mind, but that's all he would say. "I'm not going to divulge it now," he said, "but I have an idea [to pay for cleanup] within existing resources. Raising taxes should be a last resort."
At the end of the broadcast, Scott and Hallquist shook hands briefly and went their separate ways, stopping for interviews with reporters and greeting people in the crowd.