4 Dems seek Vermont gov nomination; GOP incumbent challenged
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The opportunity to challenge a sitting Republican governor in liberal Vermont would normally be a tempting opportunity for a Democratic politician. But, with no prominent Democrat in the primary to challenge Republican Gov. Phil Scott, the slate is made up of unconventional, mainly first-time candidates.
But before he can defend his post, Scott must defeat a Springfield businessman in his own primary contest against Springfield businessman Keith Stern.
Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis said he didn’t expect much turnout in a primary election without an open seat for governor or any of the other high-profile offices. The gubernatorial candidates haven’t been spending a lot of money, and there hasn’t been much news coverage.
“My guess is the people who vote in this primary are going to be the real hard-core base voters,” Davis said.
In his first term, Scott has remained fairly moderate on social issues and signed on to Democratic proposals for gender-neutral restrooms, recreational marijuana legalization, and, in a move that angered many in his base, firearms restrictions. Democratic candidates are choosing to highlight Scott’s fiscal record, his plan to overhaul public schools and his opposition to new taxes, which nearly led to a government shutdown earlier this year.
Four candidates will appear on the Democratic ballot for the Aug. 14 primary: Former electric company executive Christine Hallquist, activist James Ehlers, dance festival organizer Brenda Siegel, and 14-year-old student Ethan Sonneborn. Democratic state Sen. John Rodgers is also running a grassroots write-in campaign, largely motivated by his displeasure with firearms restrictions signed into law earlier this year.
Rodgers, who represents the northeast corner of the state in Essex and Orleans counties, initially considered running as a Democrat, Republican or independent before deciding against in.
Rodgers, a conservative Democrat, said that the party has moved away from him in recent years.
“I’m one of the few people in the statehouse that can say my grandfather was a Vermont Democrat, and I’m the same kind of Democrat he was,” Rodgers said.
Christine Hallquist has drawn national attention in her bid to be the first transgender Democratic nominee for governor. But she’d rather discuss her career as the former CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative.
Hallquist said her business acumen sets her apart from the other Democratic candidates, and from Scott, who she said has shown himself to be a “poor financial manager.”
“There’s just a whole bunch of things he’s doing that shows he is not the right person for those economic issues,” Hallquist said.
Hallquist said her plan to connect Vermont homes and business to high speed, fiber-optic internet sets her apart from the rest of the Democratic field, adding the plan will spur economic growth at a time when Vermont is losing population.
Siegel also hammered against Scott’s fiscal record, but said her experience as a low-income single mother gives her a unique perspective lacking in Vermont politics. She said her candidacy would give “a seat at the table” for those who have felt overlooked by the political establishment.
“We have a concern that the issues that Vermonters are facing are not being addressed by this current administration,” Siegel said.
Ehlers, executive director of the Colchester-based water charity Lake Champlain International, has served as an adviser for independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and is casting his campaign as a similar liberal populist movement.
“I absolutely feel that the governor’s adherence to the religion of trickle-down economics is one that had to be challenged,” Ehlers said.
But comments and social media posts from before he entered the race suggested Ehlers held anti-abortion and anti-union views that contradict his campaign platform. While Ehlers acknowledged the posts, he asserted that the points don’t represent his actual viewpoints.
“My record is clear in support of people,” Ehlers said.
The last candidate appearing on the ballot the teenager Sonneborn. A quirk in the Vermont statute does not set a minimum age for the office of governor, and his candidacy was determined to be valid after he met all requirements.
While many view his candidacy as a joke, Sonneborn has a full, fleshed-out platform echoing many of the liberal viewpoints of the state’s Democratic party.
Scott is in a Republican primary challenge from Stern, who describes himself as a conservative Republican running on financial issues.