WCAX Gov Debate: Same Song, Different Verse

The governor,his eyes fixed downward as they were throughout the debate.

The final (IIRC) gubernatorial debate of the 2020 campaign happened Wednesday evening on Channel 3. And it was pretty much more of the same: Fairly polite, well spoken, and a clear contrast between Gov. Phil Scott and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman.

Style Moment: Zuckerman looked directly into the camera. Scott never did; he looked downward and to his left throughout the debate. I’d say he was fascinated by Darren Perron’s shoes, except he’s done this at every previous face-off.

On substance, Scott spoke of austerity in the service of keeping Vermont as affordable as possible, something he seems to weigh entirely in terms of the tax burden. He downplayed any dramatic new initiatives that might cost money, unless it’s money from someone else’s pocket. The feds, for instance.

He did bring up his “Cradle to Career” concept, as he has done throughout his governorship and his 2016 campaign. Once again he failed to provide details, which he has consistently refused to do. That’s because the basic idea is to raid the Education Fund to pay for more robust efforts in pre-K, child care and post-high school education, and politically that’s a non-starter.

Scott often spoke vaguely about “needing to do more” without any specifics on issues like broadband, the opioid crisis, and making the state (and government) more diverse. On broadband, he again indicated he would depend on a major federal investment to bring the internet to rural Vermont. “We can’t wait for Congress,” replied Zuckerman.

As he did in previous debates, the Lite-Gov laid out a strong progressive slash Progressive agenda.

He called for a temporary wealth tax to jumpstart economic development programs including broadband, housing and weatherization. In a recent debate, Scott said Zuckerman’s tax would hit households with incomes as low as $159,000. Last night, Zuckerman specified that the tax would have a bottom limit of $250,000.

He also made it clear that he wouldn’t support any other tax increases. Any budget shortfalls caused by the Covid pandemic would be made whole through the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which currently has a healthy balance.

Overall, this was a rather bland affair. The relatively few attacks were pretty tame, even when the two men had the chance to quiz each other. They may have felt constrained by the ground rules; the questions came rapid-fire, and each one had different time limits — 30, 60 or 90 seconds. Scott and Zuckerman had to adjust their responses accordingly, which must have taken quite a bit of their mental energy.

There were no notable mistakes, unless you count Scott’s inability to face the camera. I doubt it will have much effect on the race. If you want a steady hand on the wheel and no major shifts in policy, Scott’s your guy. If you think that Vermont will need more vision and creativity to rebound from the Covid recession, you’ll likely back Zuckerman.

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