Campaign Countdown: Vt. gubernatorial candidates on racial equity

Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 5:13 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Throughout campaign 2020, the pandemic and economy have taken center stage But like the rest of the nation, Vermont is also in the thick of a conversation on racial justice and police reform.

This summer, there were calls for police accountability and racial justice after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The movement rippled through Vermont as tens of thousands took to the streets from Burlington to Brattleboro. Whoever wins the race for governor will have to navigate Vermont through this moment of racial reckoning.

“Systemic racism is real, even in our small state," said Governor Phil Scott. “None of us are insulated from this.”The Republican says he’s taken concrete steps to identify and address racial inequities within state government. Last summer, he created a position to focus on racial equity within state government. This year, he formed a racial equity task force that will come up with specific recommendations to the Legislature. “Things like trying to get more people of color elected, more people of color in influential positions, trying to be more accepting.”

But on police reform, the governor maintains defunding the police is not the answer. Weeks ago, as lawmakers were working on their own reform efforts, Scott signed an executive order creating a statewide use-of-force policy that mandates body cameras and updates training criteria. Like the country’s racial tension, Scott acknowledges that reform will take time. “I’m not under the illusion that this is going to happen overnight, but we have to do something,” he said.

Scott’s Democratic challenger, Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, says police and prison reform is a must. He stresses that cannabis reform, expungement clinics, and justice reinvestment will whittle down the state’s prison population and reducing Vermont’s reliance on private prisons. “We released, I think, a couple hundred people from prisons to bring down the density to create a safer environment in respect to COVID19 in the prisons," Zuckerman said. "Why were they in there in the first place if it’s deemed they can be out?”

Zuckerman also says racial inequity is burned into our society from education to jobs to housing. He stresses the need to attack systemic racism at its roots. He points to an affordable housing proposal that would be paid for by a tax on Vermonters making over $250,000. “We saw COVID outbreaks in Winooski and in part that’s because economic injustice and housing and the economic disparities in our communities of color that have been built over decades and centuries," Zuckerman said.

He says he’d press for a new housing bond -- the last one was passed in 2018.

In a state that’s 95 percent white, both Scott and Zuckerman agree that more needs to be done to make everyone feel welcome in the Green Mountain State.

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