TUNBRIDGE >> The two major candidates for lieutenant governor offered sharply contrasting visions for Vermont in their first debate Thursday at the Tunbridge World's Fair, including how they dressed.
Republican Randy Brock wore a suit with cuff links, while his opponent, Democrat-Progressive David Zuckerman, donned a suit over long underwear.
Brock, a former state auditor, faced off against Zuckerman, a state senator from Chittenden county, in a debate moderated by Mike Smith on radio station WDEV. The debate audio is available here.
There was very little the candidates agreed upon, besides supporting those, like Zuckerman, who are farmers.
Both saw a need for the production of more value-added products in the state — like cheese and yogurt — to help farmers struggling with volatile milk prices.
Brock, a Middlebury College graduate, prioritized fiscal responsibility in budgeting and said the state simply didn't have enough money to keep investing in pie-eyed programs. He cast Zuckerman, a graduate of the University of Vermont, as a reckless legislator who had supported too many problematic tax hikes.
"I couldn't find in the 14 or 16 years that you've been there a single tax bill that you haven't voted in favor of," Brock said. "We've got a $700 million increase in taxes over the past six years alone, and more to come. And I'll guarantee you we are going to have a big budget deficit this next year because, again, of over-promises."
Zuckerman — whose platform includes investing more in broadband service and higher education — agreed that the tax burden on many Vermonters was unfair. But he asserted that he was fiscally prudent and would keep spending under control.
"I've got 10 generations of New England Yankee blood in me and a Jewish father as well," Zuckerman said. "Between the two, (I'm) pretty darn frugal."
Zuckerman said that if marijuana were legalized the state would have millions more dollars in tax revenue to make meaningful investments. Brock does not support legalization.
"One of the biggest reasons to bring it above board is that right now our youth get it from a drug dealer who may well be willing and interested in selling them something else, and I'd rather move it to a regulated market, much like we did with alcohol, where you know what you are getting," he said.
The two invoked dueling statistics from states that have legalized.
"When you look at legalization of recreational cannabis in Colorado and other states you've actually seen a seen a 25 percent reduction in opiate use," Zuckerman said.
Brock countered: "In Colorado, a recent report shows that marijuana traffic deaths increased 62 percent since legalization. Youth marijuana use has increased by 20 percent, emergency room visits related to marijuana have increased by 49 percent."
Zuckerman's statistic comes from a Johns Hopkins University study while Brock's numbers appear to be from a report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. The group is a government-backed anti-drug unit whose claims have been questioned.
A recent report from the Colorado health department shows no measurable increase in teen marijuana use following legalization.
Brock pointed to estimates for Vermont's potential marijuana tax revenue — $20 million — as evidence that the money would not be able to greatly fund new initiatives.
"I never say 'never' to marijuana, but what I do say is that now is not the time," Brock said. "We need to let the dust settle. We have much more important thing to deal with."
Brock said Vermont's current gun regulations did not need any changes, while Zuckerman argued for universal background checks on purchasers. The two also diverged on the topic of campaign finance law, with Brock rejecting a pledge to refuse any corporate contributions.