NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor says she has spent the past month laying the groundwork for her challenge against popular incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.
Now, Cassandra Gekas says she is planning to engage with voters across the state until Election Day, and is hoping Scott will join her for at least six debates.
"What I’ve really been working on for the past month or so is getting our initial financial support in the door and really building relationships, reaching out to community leaders and party leaders of the Democratic and Progressive parties," Gekas said Wednesday in an interview with the Banner.
An official campaign kick-off is planned for Aug. 16 in Burlington. Democratic Party leaders will be present to help launch the challenge to Scott, she said.
"We have the full support of the leadership in the House and Senate and the governor," she said.
Scott, seeking re-election as his first term winds down, remains popular statewide. But Gekas said Scott has not offered any new policies or lead in a way to improve the lives of Vermonters.
"For me, this is about issues and Vermonters’ values. It’s true that our current lieutenant governor is a nice guy and has a lot solid friendships across the state, but that’s different from being a policy leader and an elected official. At the end of the day, when you look at the positions on the policies or you look at his values, they’re not in line with the majority of Vermonters. They’re not in line with many of our current elected officials, and so, that’s the most important thing to do," she said. "Those are promises that I can make and I think really distinguishes me from my opponent."
Gekas, a former policy analyst with KSE Partners, a Montpelier lobbying firm, and VPIRG, said health care policy is her expertise. She said she fully supports the state-level single payer health care plan sought by Gov. Peter Shumlin, a fellow Democrat.
"This is the make or break year for health care. We’re at a crisis point in the state with a $5 billion-plus budget and many, many Vermonters who are uninsured or underinsured. We just don’t have a choice. It’s time to make some big, bold decisions," she said. "I wanted to make sure that I was out there campaigning on this and that as lieutenant governor I am out there shepherding this."
Gekas faulted Scott for not taking a clear position on Shumlin’s plan, saying he has "expressed concern" with Shumlin’s direction, but has not offered alternative ideas.
"The distinction is that I want to solve the problem and that we’re following a vision that is well-researched, that we know works. It’s about leadership and vision on health care, which is a big distinction between the two of us," she said.
Gekas said she is hoping to engage Scott on economic policies, too. Many middle-class Vermont families "are riding the edge economically," she said. Lowering the cost of health care, college tuition and child care must be something the lieutenant governor leads on. The office should be used as an "incubator space" to create policy road maps, Gekas said.
"We have to do something about the cost of child care. That is something that resonates. I hear from people regardless of their income level or party affiliation. Parents are spending thousands of dollars on child care. If you’re a single mom making the median income Š child care is 60 percent of your income. It’s not possible," she said.
Gekas said she is looking into policies in other states that offer incentives to employers that provide on-site child care.
Vermont must take a more active role in consumer protection, according to Gekas. She said she would like to see an independent office of consumer advocacy that would provide residents with professional representation before state boards. The office’s job would be to protect and defend Vermonters before regulators, she said.
"I think that Vermont could be doing a whole lot more on the consumer protection side of things. If you look at what’s pushing people economically, we can point to a lot of different, pretty egregious practices across the country. Although, Vermont is doing better," Gekas said. "Somebody needs to be watchdogging these things more carefully."
Detailed plan coming
Gekas said she is hoping to present a more detailed plan in late September.
Unlike Shumlin, Gekas said she supports asking the wealthiest Vermonters to pay higher taxes. "I fully support that," she said. "To me, it’s just simple fairness. This isn’t even about taking money from the wealthy or redistribution, it’s about paying your fair share."
Gekas said she fully supports Shumlin and 99 percent of his policies, but will not be afraid to speak up when they disagree. "I’m not scared to voice my opinions if they happen to be different than the powers that be," she said.