In the first one-on-one debate, Brenda Siegel tries to put Phil Scott on the defensive

Brenda Siegel, left, and Phil Scott. Photos by Glenn Russell and Riley Robinson/VTDigger

Brenda Siegel, an activist who hopes to overthrow one of the most popular governorsused his first one-on-one with Gov. Phil Scott to try to put the incumbent on the defensive about his record on pensions, housing and the opioid crisis, among other topics.

During the debate between the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates, held at the Tunbridge World’s Fair and moderated by WDEV radio, Scott appeared mostly indifferent to Siegel’s jabs. He sometimes deflected his opponent’s parries by not engaging, and his closing remarks ended with a plea for civility.

“I will continue to do what I can to show that you can, you can be elected without being negative, without being vicious, without getting in the mud,” he said at the end of the event. of one hour.

A moderate Republican running for his fourth term, Scott argued that Vermonters should trust him to continue to meet the state’s challenges. His administration had made progress on Vermont’s opioid crisis, cost-of-living challenges and demographic issues before Covid-19 arrived, he said. And with Vermont’s state of emergency behind him, Scott said it’s time to get back to those efforts.

“We’ve bounced back, and we’re ready to get back to work, to finally understand what we need to do to bring more people to this state that makes it more affordable, to grow the economy and protect the most vulnerable.” he declared. in his introductory remarks.

Siegel, a longtime activist who hopes to bring about political upheaval from David and Goliath, argued in her opening remarks that much bolder visions of governance will be needed to address Vermont’s crises. And Siegel, who speaks openly and often about the loss of loved ones to the state’s opioid epidemic and who struggles to make ends meet, argued the state isn’t making steady progress. , but in fact “goes in the wrong direction”.

“It’s going to be a tough fight. But that’s not even close to the toughest fight I’ve had to face in my life. And I’m still standing,” Siegel said. “I know people are rising up all over our state and have to fight anyway, even if it’s hard. And I invite Vermonters to do it with me.

Both Scott and Siegel support a move to enshrine reproductive rights in Vermont’s constitution that will appear on the November ballot as Article 22. But while questions about abortion have highlighted commonalities between the candidates, they also showed their many differences.

Siegel argued that being “pro-choice is not enough right now.” Vermont needs updated extradition laws to protect women who come to the state to seek abortion care, she said, as well as their providers.

The state also needs a mandatory paid family and paid medical leave law, she said — an indirect shot at Scott, who has repeatedly vetoed mandatory paid family leave bills. sent to him by the Democratic-controlled legislature. She also deplored the “wait-and-see” approach of her administration.

Her reply was brief: “I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe it is between her and her health care provider. And I believe in liberty and freedom and we will leave it at that,” he said.

After WDEV moderator Lee Kittell asked if the more than 60 million abortions performed over the past 50 years “are at least part of the reason why so many companies and organizations can’t find the people they need to function,” Scott replied, “I’m not sure you can draw that conclusion,” before quickly pivoting. Vermont’s demographic issues are real, Scott said, but should be addressed through reforms that draw people to the state and make life here affordable.

Siegel was more energetic.

“I’m sure you can’t draw that conclusion by that statistic,” she replied, adding that the question was offensive.

“I was not born to develop a workforce. It’s not my responsibility as a woman, nor the responsibility of any woman or anyone with reproductive issues — with a womb, across our country or across our state,” she said.

Asked by Kittell if Vermont should consider increasing penalties for those who import fentanyl into the state, and what else the state could do to reduce the deadly impact of the drug, Scott suggested the State may need to renew its focus on enforcement.

The state’s opioid response requires the “four-legged stool” of prevention, treatment, recovery and enforcement, he said.

“A lot of the gun violence that we see, especially in the Burlington area, is due to this drug activity, illicit drug activity, and so we have to be careful,” Scott said. . “Again, we cannot just focus on one area. We need to focus on all the areas that make it work holistically.

Siegel responded that arrests are usually focused on low-level traffickers who themselves suffer from substance use disorders, not “kingpins,” and instead nodded to law enforcement reform. criminal justice. She said Vermont should emphasize “harm reduction first,” referring to policies that focus on mitigating the most serious consequences of substance use. And she said the state should guarantee on-demand treatment and recovery, including physician-assisted treatment, and better fund mental health services.

“I didn’t hear about ‘harm reduction’ in this answer,” she said of Scott’s answer. “And I know very well from working on this across the state and the country and watching my own family member – who I helped raise – sink into the ground that we have to do the work for make sure we can keep people alive in this disease and cut at its root.

Scott replied that “harm reduction is a big part of our strategy”.

“I’m just surprised to hear that my opponent doesn’t think we’re doing any of that. Because we are,” he said, pointing to state support for needle exchange programs and Narcan distribution. Scott, however, pointed to an area of ​​fierce disagreement on the subject between him and Siegel.

“It’s part of our strategy and it’s something we have to pay attention to, but it’s not about the so-called safe injection sites,” he said.

Indeed, Siegel immediately vetoed Scott’s bill in the last session that would have commissioned a feasibility study on opening an overdose prevention site – a place where people can use drugs. illicit drugs without fear of being arrested and with medical supervision in the event of an overdose.

“He didn’t even want to know more about the problem, but to solve it,” she said.

It wasn’t the only time Scott’s record vetoes appeared. Asked about Bill 250 and other reforms that may be needed to address the state’s housing crisis, the governor brought up one himself. Scott said he was not keen on regulating short-term rentals and argued that he had tried unsuccessfully for years to convince lawmakers to revise and streamline Bill 250, the main bill on the use and development of state land, in order to facilitate the construction of housing.

“Unfortunately, they were all pushed back by the Legislative Assembly, and they passed one last year that was just a shadow of its former self – and that was going to do more harm than good,” did he declare. “So I also vetoed it. So we’re back to the table.

Siegel responded that short-term rentals need more government oversight, arguing that out-of-state investors are taking housing off the market as they buy up entire buildings across the state to convert into short-term rentals. . She sought to make Scott’s veto an example of a governance style my way or my way.

“The bill that passed was a very strong bill, it started to make some of these changes, and they were completely voted down because the governor just wanted to revamp everything,” Siegel said.
“The mayor of Burlington, Mayor Miro Weinberger, agreed that this bill was a non-starter, that it would make the problem worse – the Bill 250 that passed – and many people celebrated the fact that I vetoed this bill,” Scott replied.

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