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Campaign Countdown: Vt. candidates for governor weigh in on COVID response

Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 4:13 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 4, 2020 at 4:13 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - On the road to campaign 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has changed how candidates reach voters and has redefined the issues. Whoever wins the Vermont governor’s race will have to deal with distributing a vaccine, healing the economy, and balancing a budget millions in the red. Calvin Cutler sat down with the candidates for their assessment of how the state has responded to the pandemic so far and how each plans to lead going forward.

COVID-19 has upended life as we know it, forcing Vermonters to make economic and personal sacrifices. The state is still leading the country in suppressing the virus, with the fewest deaths and the lowest positivity rate. Dr. Anthony Fauci even praised Vermonters and Governor Phil Scott’s leadership during a briefing last month. “I’m sitting here listening to the numbers and I’m wondering if I could take it and bottle that and bring it with me when I go around talking to other parts of the country,” Fauci said.

Gov. Scott says Vermont’s success is due, in part, to his track record of listening to the health experts. “It’s not just about me, it’s about my team and its about Vermonters and their willingness to follow the guidance, my willingness to listen to the health experts,” Scott said.

His handling of the pandemic has translated into one of the highest approval ratings of any leader in the country. His Democratic opponent, Lt. Governor David Zuckerman, has even applauded Scott’s initial response, but he also says some of his decisions throughout the pandemic have been politically motivated, like when Scott mailed out 1,200 checks to Vermonters stuck in the Department of Labor’s unemployment backlog.

“He politicized people’s needs for money, when for me, it’s about getting the money out the door. For me, it’s the subtle politicization of things that most people don’t notice that were very frustrating for me,” Zuckerman said.

Even though the Progressive-Democrat doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the governor on many issues, he says he offered to stand with the governor at his weekly press conferences in a show of solidarity. Zuckerman says Scott declined.

Now, scientists are making progress on a vaccine, though a timeline for distributing it remains unclear. Zuckerman and Scott say they would to listen to the experts when considering who should get it first. But Zuckerman has previously come under fire for his support of vaccine exemptions.

“We need to make sure it’s a safe vaccine and that it’s proven as it should be through the process of science, then ill work with the experts to see what the next steps should be,” Zuckerman said.

Scott says it’s too early to talk about the sensitive issue of vaccine mandates. He says the greatest challenge right now is not becoming complacent and allowing the virus to spread. “If the health experts come back, the health department and Dr. Levine and others say ‘we need to mandate,’ then we would probably mandate or attempt to. But it’s far too soon for that at this point,” he said.

The pandemic and business restrictions have depleted state coffers and whoever wins will have to oversee economic recovery and balancing the budget. Zuckerman wants to dip into Vermont’s rainy day funds and would consider raising taxes for wealthy Vermonters. Scott says it’s too soon to tell and that there could be more federal relief or an increase in tax revenue.

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