The Valley Reporter interviewed the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates last week in Waitsfield and Middlesex. Democratic candidate Sue Minter and Republican candidate sat down to answer a series of questions that will be printed in this week’s and subsequent issues of The Valley Reporter.
The Valley Reporter (VR): Why are you running for governor now?
Phil Scott (PS): Twenty years ago I didn’t have a political bone in my body; I had no interest in politics whatsoever. But I was tired as a frustrated business owner. I started complaining about what they were doing to me in Montpelier. I decided to step up and run and instead of being maybe part of the problem be part of the solution. I thought I could add my voice to the legislative process and after 10 years decided that was going to be it in terms of public service; I’d go back to my business. I was convinced to run for lt. governor. After the six years of being lt. governor, I see a need to step up and be a voice of reason, to forward policies that I believe have been missed and to really focus on the economy and the affordability of the state of Vermont.
Sue Minter (SM): I’m running really because of the experiences I’ve had being a public servant, whether in the Legislature for six years, including during the great recession, through really tough times and being the Irene Recovery officer after we were hit with that terrible disaster. I really have experience of working and bringing people together to get things done. Whether it’s being secretary of transportation, I have the skills and experience to actually lead Vermont forward. As I’m traveling around what I notice, really, we are in tough times; it’s not a natural disaster, but there are many crises, and we need leadership that understands how to bring people together, how to set goals and achieve goals and get things done, and that’s why I’m ready to be the next governor.
VR: What makes you the most qualified?
SM: I think every leader brings her own experience to this job and I have experience working at the local level as a very activity community member on my local planning commission, on our downtown Waterbury revitalization committee and coaching youth soccer for 13 years. I have lots of local experiences with people. I’ve also had a very successful career in the Legislature as well as in the executive branch. I think that that mix of experience is exactly the qualifications that a governor needs. I’ve been running the second largest agency of state government, managing a workforce of 1,300 people, a very diverse workforce. I’ve been managing problems every single day that come up. I’ve had to balance a $600 million budget. That’s the kind of experience with management, fiscal responsibility and working with people to make solutions to the challenges we face; that’s exactly the qualification and experience the next governor will need. By contrast, my opponent Phil Scott, while he has had a statewide position, just compare his experience in government with mine. I’ve had a $600 million budget; he’s had a $70,000 budget. I’ve managed 1,300 people; he’s had a staff of one. Now he’s got experience managing his contracting company, but frankly I’ve built more bridges as secretary of transportation than Phil Scott.
PS: My foundation, so to speak. I grew up in a blue-collar family. My dad passed away when I was 11, left my mom as a single mom with three boys at a young age. We survived, but looking back it had to be difficult on her and all of us as well, but it’s part of your foundation. Growing up in those times I think built a great deal of respect for those who struggle, respect for those who are in business as well. I was going to be a technical education teacher. I went to UVM, did my student teaching and then decided to go into business. I’ve had those sleepless nights wondering how you’re going to make payroll, wondering where your next job’s coming from, how are you going to take care of your employees and their families and the burden? The responsibility of that weighs deeply on me. I don’t take it lightly. All those experiences together give me a sense of what Vermont needs. And when I became lt. governor, I wanted to keep my finger on the pulse so I did this Vermont everyday jobs tour where I’ve worked a day in someone else’s shoes. I’ve done 35 jobs throughout the last five years. Everything from beekeeping to teaching second grade to working on a line crew to working for a large animal vet, distilleries; you name it, I’ve probably done it.
VR: What issues do you think face the Mad River Valley and small communities like it?
PS: Well you know it’s a struggle. The Valley isn’t immune to some of the economic challenges throughout Vermont, but as I travel around Vermont, Chittenden County does fairly well. I mean better than the rest of Vermont, but when you get outside of that county you can see real challenges whether it’s in Rutland or Bennington or Windham or Windsor and here as well. This community, in particular, is focused a lot on skiing, outdoors sports, and when we have a winter like we had last year it has a tremendous effect on what happens here. Our workforce shrunk, we have less people working today than we had seven years ago. We need to revitalize the youth here and that’s going to take opportunity; it’s going to take affordable housing; affordability is crucial. I think we do a pretty good job with low-income housing. But I think we’ve missed the mark on affordable housing for the working class. I have a 12-point economic plan that is about focusing on affordable housing. When you look at the tremendous growth we’ve had in the solar industry, it’s all because of tax incentives. It’s all because it’s lucrative and if you do the same with affordable housing with tax incentives, they lead to growth. I’ve bought a house or two in my lifetime and fixed it up and sold it. There are tax barriers to doing that; it’s capital gains you’d have to pay. My idea is to create an incentive where you could; a small entity or an individual could take and flip three or four homes a year. We have a lot of dilapidated housing stock and that seems like a good way to use our resources with the caveat of making sure those homes reach a certain standard in terms of efficiency because we don’t want to burden those seeking homes with high operating costs, so I’d want to make sure that we had some level of efficiency standard so its good housing stock, not just about making money but creating incentive to doing so.
SM: I think there are. As the member who has represented Waterbury and Duxbury and Buels Gore, I certainly have a close affinity with some of the issues. I think for tourism and the ski industry, how climate is affecting us is critically important. I know that supporting our tourism economy, especially our outdoor and recreation industry, is something important not only to The Valley but also to the state. That’s why I have put forward Vermont Outdoors, my outdoor recreation plan to actually build on the incredible assets that we have in places like the Mad River Valley. It’s not just for the ski industry but for all of what The Valley offers to tourists, the incredible agricultural and historical heritage, but also the recreation. Growing recreation, such as mountain biking, growing events that you host like running races, these are things that not only showcase what is great about Vermont, they support the local economy. These are the kinds of things. I have a very unique experience because I’m active in sports like participating in Mad River Path runs, understanding the needs of, for example, the Green Mountain Stage Race, which didn’t come through Waterbury this year, but we’ll get it back. I get that these are not just great opportunities for the athletes, they’re actually critically important for the businesses that support them. I know we’ve got to be thinking about all four seasons’ recreation, knowing the changes that climate will bring. I think The Valley is not unique to the rest of Vermont. We have far too many Vermonters struggling and families struggling to make ends meet. Want to make sure businesses can find qualified workers. I know that families are concerned about the ability for the next generation to go to college and I want to really make sure that we create opportunities for middle class families and for our future generation so that they can live work and stay in Vermont.