Primary Preview: Meet the GOP candidates for Vt. lt. governor

Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 4:38 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2022 at 11:48 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Two Republicans are vying to become Vermont’s “number two” in the August 9 primary.

The position of lieutenant governor has three main obligations -- presiding over the Senate and casting tie-breaking votes, appointing legislators to committee assignments, and taking the governor’s seat in the event they are incapable.

Vermont Senator Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County, and Gregory Thayer, a Rutland financial accountant, may be members of the same party, but they stand on opposite sides of the political spectrum, demonstrating the sharp divide within the party at the local and national levels.

“In order to advance Vermont’s economy, Vermont’s history, Vermont’s people, you name it... I want to be chief promoter of Vermont,” Benning said.

“My campaign is about ‘We the people...’ Common sense approach to leadership, to good government,” Thayer said.

Benning, a longtime state lawmaker, impassioned Trump critic, and libertarian-leaning Republican, stands in stark contrast to Thayer-- a former town leader, strong Trump supporter and constitutional conservative.

Benning focused on three major facets of why he is most qualified for the job. They include his 12 years serving at the Statehouse, extensive experience as the Lyndon town moderator, his various positions on Senate committees, and time as the former minority leader.

“Getting into the rhythm of knowing what happens as soon as the gavel comes down and you say the words ‘Come to order,’ right through the day when the gavel comes back down and say ‘The senate now stands adjourned.’ I know all of those things by heart,” Benning said.

The moderate Republican’s party perspective aligns closely with Governor Phil Scott’s. Benning is confident in his Statehouse connections and ability to communicate and compromise with key players on both sides of the aisle. “I’ve known and worked with these people for 12 years now. I know how they fit together, I know how they don’t fit together,” he said.

Benning often gives Capitol tours for local students and he says he plans to travel often and far to represent the values of the Green Mountain State. “You can literally use the office to go around the world and tout Vermont products, the image of Vermont,” Benning said.

While Benning touts institutional knowledge, banker and former Rutland City Alderman Gregory Thayer proudly proclaims he doesn’t have the Montpelier mentality. “I keep sitting here seeing what’s going on with the Democratic leadership in Montpelier and the far-left agenda that they have and I just don’t agree with it,” Thayer said. “I’m the guy with fresh ideas, new thinking that can really work with people.”

Thayer founded the Vermonters for Vermont initiative in 2018. More than a year ago, that conservative group started hosting town halls across the state criticizing the instruction of critical race theory. And with other members, he boarded a bus to Washington on January 6th to contest the 2020 election results.

While Thayer has never held a statewide position, he says his refined interpersonal skills are what sets him apart. “The key ingredient is that I respect people and I listen to them,” he said. “I think I can do a lot working with the legislators and the senators, have good alliance. I’m going around the state. I know a lot of them. I’ve met them all and I feel very, very comfortable in both the House and the Senate.”

Like Benning, Thayer also says he has aspirations to speak on behalf of Vermonters beyond the state border and says he’s dedicated to meeting as many at home as possible. “I’d hold some office open houses, getting people to come up to Montpelier to talk. I’d also go out into the communities,” he said.

It’s also important to note that Benning voted for Proposition 5, the constitutional amendment on the November ballot cementing abortion rights. Thayer is an outspoken opponent of the amendment.

Both candidates agree on at least one thing, Vermont is in the midst of an affordability crisis and the rising state budget isn’t sustainable.

The August 9th primary winner will challenge the Democratic nominee in the general election on November 8th.

Christina Gueesferd will introduce the Democrats running for Lt. governor on the Channel 3 News at 6 on Wednesday.

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