The Valley Reporter interviewed the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates last month in Waitsfield and Middlesex. Democratic candidate Sue Minter and Republican candidate Phil Scott sat down to answer a series of questions that are being printed in recent and future issues of The Valley Reporter.
VR: The mayor of Rutland, Chris Louras, would like to resettle 100 refugees in Rutland. What are your thoughts on this?
Phil Scott (PS): Public safety has to come first. Mayor Louras, I think his heart was in the right place, but I think I guess a better question for him, but he didn’t put his plan into place correctly. There should have been public involvement, more buy-in in the beginning, and I think that this created a very divisive subject and is very divisive for the community and it’s tearing the community apart as we speak. I have a great deal of compassion for those coming from war-torn countries and I believe we should do whatever we can to help. I think we have an obligation to do that, but again we need to be transparent in the process. We need to have everyone fully understand what that process is and protect this business that we have here. So again, I think that immigration, legal immigration, is part of our solution in the future. I want to build a population, so that’s the fastest way to do it. I came from Barre and Barre bridged ethnic background, all surrounding the economy, which was granite. The Americans Scots, the French Canadians all coming to Barre because of the opportunity and I think we can do the same with Vermont as well, but again public safety first in terms of the refugee program.
Sue Minter (SM): I will be a governor who opens our state’s arms to refugee resettlement. I’m very supportive of Rutland mayor Chris Louras. Our family hosted a refugee family six years ago. They were part of a community of refugees from Central Asia who were fleeing persecution and I realized that the families who are still here are a very important part of our economy. They work here, they’ve gone to school here and they are an important way to continue to diversify our state and I’ll keep our doors open to those fleeing war and persecution.
VR: Do you think Vermont gun laws are working? Do you think they need to be changed? Should they include universal background checks?
SM: Yes. I am very concerned about what I see as an epidemic of gun violence around this country and Vermont is not immune. I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I honor our hunting heritage. I do not want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens. My goal is that we have background checks on all gun sales. We already have background checks for all federally licensed gun sales and this would make sure that we have the same checks for all gun sales so they don’t end up in the wrong hands. Now people tell me we don’t have a problem, but I know that we do and it’s often behind closed doors and it’s about domestic violence. Domestic violence is an epidemic that has been in the shadows and we need to talk about it. The majority of homicides in Vermont are domestic violence related and most are with guns. In states where they have background checks for all handgun sales, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by their domestic partners. I don’t want to leave women and children afraid behind closed doors. We know it makes a difference not only in domestic violence but also suicides by guns. We had the eighth highest rate of domestic violence in the country in 2013. I’m going to stand up to the gun lobby and not leave women and children standing alone.
PS: I have been a longtime outdoor sports enthusiasts myself in all different regards, hunting and fishing and so forth. I think our gun laws are sufficient. I think we should enforce the ones we have. I don’t think that’s the highest priority facing Vermont at this point; that is the economy. We don’t need to make any changes in our gun laws. I just don’t feel that there is a need.
VR: Do you think that this is a matter that should be handled on a national level?
SM: Not rather than but in addition to, because we know it’s not going to happen at the federal level so states have to take action. This is why governors matter so much right now. We have a dysfunctional Congress and it is really up to states to be the change agents. We have to lead state by state in having background checks. We’re not trying to take guns away from people; those are scare tactics. We’re trying to make sure that a reporter in Chittenden County can’t go online, call someone and within eight hours legally buy an AR-15 in a parking lot. That’s what needs to stop.
PS: I think state by state we certainly have proven that Vermont is unique maybe, and I like that uniqueness. I think that it’s part of the attraction so while we would adhere to federal law, I am comfortable with what we are doing right now.
VR: Do you support your party’s candidate for president?
SM: Yes, I do. I obviously was a big Bernie booster and endorser, but I am very excited to support Hillary Clinton to be the next president of our United States and I think there’s no question that it’s a critically important choice and election for this country.
PS: No, I don’t. I respect those who illustrated that they are looking for an option, but he’s just not my choice.