Democrats rally on Statehouse lawn, take aim at Scott

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MONTPELIER — The general election campaign kicked off in earnest Thursday, as Vermont Democratic primary winners and runners-up gathered on the Statehouse lawn to put the just-ended campaign behind them and urged support of Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, Molly Gray and party nominees and up and down the ticket.

Two themes quickly emerged as primary winners and runners-up congratulated the victors and pledged support.

Speakers said the upcoming election is crucial, not only for the country but for Vermont as well, making it important that Democrats support Zuckerman in his race against Republican Gov. Phil Scott, and Gray in her run against Republican Scott Milne for lieutenant governor.

Second, multiple speakers said, Scott may be a likable fellow, but his vetoes on key legislation say otherwise, and it's time for a change.

"The current governor is a nice guy. His veto pen is not," Brenda Siegel of Newfane, who finished third in the race for lieutenant governor, said of Scott. "We have to want better."

"Phil Scott has got to go," added Patrick Winburn of Bennington, who finished third in the gubernatorial primary behind Zuckerman and Rebecca Holcombe. "He's a nice guy, but his polices on minimum wage, on family leave, his handling of the opioid epidemic, those are not nice."

Calling the Nov. 3 general election "the most important election of our lifetimes," Zuckerman made the case for progressive policies that help the state emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As we look forward and toward emerging from this crisis we must lead in a new way," Zuckerman said. "If we only focus on what is happening right now we will miss opportunities to build a stronger, better and safer Vermont."

That's not "cutting and slashing programs and jobs as a way of getting out of financial strain," he said. But it does include higher wages for workers, expanding broadband, addressing the climate crisis, promoting green jobs, and making health care accessible and affordable, he added.

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"We we need to work to ensure all Vermonters have access to health care all the time, not just in a COVID crisis, Zuckerman said. "And now's the time to tackle racial justice issues head-on, to make sure every Vermonter who lives here and those hoping to move here know they are welcome, respected, included and safe."

Siegel said Zuckerman showed the kind of leader he is a few years ago, after her nephew died. He offered her the use of his office when she needed private time, and "talked to me and showed he genuinely cared," she said.

"I want my leaders to have hearts like his," Siegel said.

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Holcombe, the former state Secretary of Education and runner-up to Zuckerman, pointed to the importance of hearing and including women's voices in driving the party platform forward.

"We see now in COVID that this isn't about a women's issue, this is how we keep front-line workers safe ... and this is how we take care of our children," she said.

"What COVID really did was rip back the curtain on everything that was wrong," Holcombe said. "This [election] isn't about COVID, this is about the fact we had an economic crisis .. this is about income inequality and the fact Vermont doesn't have an economic engine."

With that said, Zuckerman and Gray can't do it alone, Holcombe told fellow Democrats. "This is our responsibility ... to make sure this isn't a moment, this is a movement. We need to show up for them so we can make the change our children deserve and our children need."

Candidates also hailed the work of Secretary of State Jim Condos and his office in setting up and delivering a largely vote-by-mail primary election that unofficially produced record turnout.

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"Jim Condos you have shown how a COVID election can be safe, can be secure and it can be big. You set a standard for the entire country," said U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

"You didn't just do this for Vermont. you did this for the nation," Holcombe told Condos. "You showed Georgia, Wisconsin, North Carolina and everybody trying to suppress the Black vote that we can do [vote by mail] safely, and there's no excuse."

Condos credited his staff and the state's town clerks for making the vote-by-mail plan work. "The more people vote the stronger our democracy is," he said.

To have played a part in a campaign that reached out to Vermonters across the state and across generations "is the greatest honor of my life," Gray said.

"Vermont is at a crosswords. We are facing a demographic crisis, a global pandemic, economic uncertainty and a major social change. ... There is no going back. There is no going back," Gray said, repeating that phrase for emphasis. "From our greatest challenges come our greatest opportunities and this is our moment."

Speaking first, Welch castigated President Donald Trump's response for being "dismissive" and "disrespectful" of the seriousness of the pandemic.

Welch said the nation faces an existential question: "Whether you believe in democracy and the rule of law. We have a lawless attorney general [William Barr] who reminds me of a modern day Bull Connor," Welch said, referring to the segregationist Birmingham, Ala., public safety commissioner who turned fire hoses and police dogs on civil rights protesters in the 1960s. "When we return to Washington the issues we face will be issued by the issues you care right here at the Statehouse: Do we support democracy, the right to vote, the essential urgency of citizen participation?"

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.


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