Photo: Lt. Governor David Zuckerman. Photo by: Mike Worthington
Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, 49, of Hinesburg is the Democratic nominee for governor. Zuckerman was elected Vermont’s 81st Lieutenant Governor of Vermont in 2016. He previously served in the Vermont House of Representatives for seven terms (1997–2011), and the Vermont Senate for two (2013–2017). Zuckerman is a farmer who was born in Boston and graduated from the University of Vermont in 1995.
The interview was conducted via Zoom September 14 with James Dwinell and Timothy McQuiston. The story is written by James Dwinell.
VBM: Congratulations on your primary victory. As Lieutenant Governor, other than having Governor Scott over to your home to chat with your family about that position and its time commitments away from home, how have you been cooperating with him.
ZUCKERMAN: Other than one 30 minute meeting during the last four years, there was no reaching out from him or his administration. He had told me during his transition, that he had decided not to include me in most everything. I joined some group meetings.
I told him that in the anti-Trump atmosphere in Vermont, that he and I had an opportunity to show how to do bipartisan work. I gave him three ideas which I thought we should be able to work together on.
I thought that we could turn cannabis into a real revenue stream for the state as they have in Colorado. Secondly, I have found that the Agencies of Education and Human Services have many redundancies in supporting the same families. We could create a task force to take its time to resolve these. Lastly, Lyme Disease is harming many Vermonters. We could support creating an area of study and research chair at the UVM Medical Center putting us on the level of Johns Hopkins and Stanford in learning more about the disease.
During the meeting he never responded to my thoughts, nor has he since.
VBM: Were you surprised by the Democrat Lieutenant Governor race outcome?
ZUCKERMAN: Yes. I thought that race would be two to three percent margin, not ten percent. She ran one of the best “first-time” campaigns. Even though, I did not see the breadth of that outcome happening.
VBM: You may be governor in less than four months, how will you address COVID?
ZUCKERMAN: First thing is to keep Dr. Levine, the steady rock of strength and knowledge and continuity. The Governor deserves accolades for following the science and its recommendations. The people of Vermont did what community minded people do, particularly as compared to other states.
The real question is how are we going to rebuild, safely and economically, well putting us back on our feet.
Education by then will be settling into remote, in the classroom, or both ongoing.
VBM: Money will be an issue; room and meals, gas, personal and corporate income taxes, and probably a dip in the personal property tax because of people’s inability to pay. The federal government probably will not send us a billion two once again.
ZUCKERMAN: Pat Leahy deserves credit for creating the small state minimum of COVID aid to boost it from $700,000,000 to $1,200,000,000. Otherwise we would be in a shocking situation. Some of the federal money was used for budgetary needs, but most was used to recover from COVID damage.
Our rainy day fund of $200 million is available just for this type of situation. To not stress our education budget, I would bond now to raise money to cover the immediate hole and then pay the bond off in five or six years to cover the expected education fund gap in better times.
I would also look at temporary marginal tax rate increases as Governor Snelling did back in 1991. I would pursue the reduction of redundancies to create a bit more revenue. We can also break down silos within the Agency of Human Services for savings according to folks I have spoken to, including Doug Racine, former secretary of the Agency.
The prison system is wasting money and human energy by reincarnating folks just for a parole violation. This is an asinine situation where we harm both a parolee and our budget. So can reduce expenses, but primarily we can use the rainy day fund.
If Biden wins which I expect, we will see more aid sent to each state because every state is in a hole. Sooner or later, Congress will hear enough from their constituents to provide the necessary financial aid.
VBM: If that money doesn’t flow into Vermont, what other opportunities for revenue are there?
ZUCKERMAN: I think that property taxes will stay stable, a revenue bond will work to fill the hole to avoid increasing the property tax burden. I think Trump is less interested in bailing out the states than Biden would be, but when 40 out of the fifty state governors scream, he and McConnell will go wobbly and send money. And because of Leahy, we may end up with a disproportional amount once again.
VBM: Does the government need a mandate in times of crisis to override “local control” as it relates to education?
ZUCKERMAN: There isn’t now enough planning done for a successful remote learning opening from what I hear from constituents. School opened but the school remote system was not ready.
This has been very detrimental to our business sector, particularly as it relates to employees' ability to work and business ability to plan. With a synchronized system across the state, we would all have the same rules, and everyone could plan their lives, business or employees.
VBM: Would you support moving away from local control to a more centralized school district to manage emergencies or health care?
ZUCKERMAN: No. But because of the COVID era for the next year or two, a more universal education plan for those going to work and supervising work, would be a good thing. However, changing the system, no, I support a local control model.
Photo: Lt. Governor David Zuckerman at Bernie Sander's rally. Courtesy Photo.
VBM: Perhaps for health care?
ZUCKERMAN: I want universal primary health care across the board. In that case, yes. Businesses operating a primary care model are seeing the return on that investment within the first year. Taking care of primary needs, cuts, colds, and such, and keeping folks out of expensive emergency room visits is the model that I would start with, including teachers.
VBM: Remember single payer blew up when the costs were understood.
ZUCKERMAN: It would not be a single inclusive health care model, just primary care. Once we show that works, we have the model and the accompanying technological work done, everybody in with their medical records and all, it would work. But not with our trying to overlay the model on all aspects of medical care. The single payer model was too much, a bridge too far in that moment.
VBM: Is the revenue crisis acerbating the shortfall in the teachers’ and state employees’ pension funds?
ZUCKERMAN: No. There was a commitment a couple of years ago to annually transfer budgeted dollars into the funds, and we are living up to it.
We have to care for and invest in our land, our water, our air, and our pension plans. Pay now, or pay the piper later.
VBM: Is there a way to lower the cost of the pension plans, for example following what business often does, buy out the obligation by giving a lump sum to the employee upon retirement?
ZUCKERMAN: We made a commitment to these folks. Using short term solutions vs sound management I do not support. You would often leave people, as they age, from having the necessary resources. And if so, then they would need financial help from the government to make ends meet.
VBM: The COVID crisis has hurt the already wounded dairy industry. What can you do to help?
ZUCKERMAN: Dairy continues to fail, most recently the Thomas Dairy of Rutland. As long as Vermont stays in the commodity milk market, the Vermont dairy industry will struggle. There are 10,000, 20,000, even 40,000 head dairies in this country that our farmers are competing with. Their cost of production is much less. Our landscape and agricultural model just does not fit in today’s world.
We need to sit down with our dairy farmers and frankly talk about the sinking ship, and remake the dairy system to survive. We produce only 1.2% of the nation’s milk; nobody would notice it if we disappeared.
Should we leave the commodity milk system and rebrand our milk? Particularly near Southern Vermont serving the Boston, New York, and New Jersey markets we can differentiate ourselves by marketing our milk producers as representing our values of sustainable animal husbandry practices, carbon saving grazing practices, and worker rights practices. Then we could sell at a better price in the marketplace.
There is not a big enough organic market for all of our milk. Maybe 5% of the marketplace will buy a premium Vermont milk that has lower semantic cell counts and auxiliary benefits to the land, the animals and the workers, and if they pay a dollar more per gallon, it will make our dairy farmers successful. We have to reconfigure the dairy industry or it will be gone.
VBM: Dairy is part of the current water pollution issue in our lakes and streams.
ZUCKERMAN: Some of the water pollution is from the agriculture sector, but there is more from the urban and impermeable surface runoff. Agriculture has made much bigger steps than the others.
If we had more carbon regenerative agriculture, we would be building organic matter in the soil which would act more like a sponge and slow down the runoff that now reaches the streams and lakes. This is in our climate benefit as well as our agricultural benefit.
VBM: Speaking of the climate bill, it was vetoed......
VBM: Why do you support the Climate Change bill?
ZUCKERMAN: I do not want to, on any issue facing us in Vermont, just kick the can down the road. This legislation will hold all elective offices in Vermont accountable for promises which keep getting made and broken.
VBM: We are not like most states where we just turn off a large cold burning plant to reduce our environmental footprint. We generate so little carbon here. Why do we need to meet these aggressive targets?
ZUCKERMAN: Over the last four years we have lost over 500 solar jobs and over the last four years, Vermont has lost over 900 renewable energy jobs. If we move more towards renewable energy we would reduce our carbon footprint. As we go to electric cars, we need more power.
We can reduce our energy consumption in the housing and transportation sectors, our biggest carbon footprints, which means a lot for those who are already struggling financially. The weatherization of homes, using solar for hot water, this can be done more quickly.
VBM: The Public Service Board has essentially made it impossible to build wind farms. Can the Board change?
ZUCKERMAN: In part, this is what this election is about as the governor appoints the members and over time a new governor would have a new board.
VBM: Your campaign style of boots on the ground, meeting people everywhere, the hard work you do campaigning is famous; that is impossible this year. How are you managing to campaign?
ZUCKERMAN: It is much harder, incredibly different, incredibly difficult. Person to person contact is not possible. We do Zoom, TV and radio ads are starting. We do a couple back yard events. We are doing mailings and social media. With my history of in person work at fairs, church suppers, coffee shops, library meetings, folks may remember me as we remind them why we are running.
I have served for 22 years traveling the state, listening to people, learning the issues, engaging folks has prepared the ground for this campaign.
VBM: Why should I vote for you now?
ZUCKERMAN: The Governor has done a good job with COVID. But what it really boils down to is that I have more ideas. When I look back over the Governor Scott’s years, I can’t name a single issue that he led the charge or gave us the vision which would lead us to a better future.
Vermont has declined, for example, in our wellbeing for children in the last two years. We have gone backwards in our rural economies. We are struggling in providing affordable housing. The incredible migration from COVID, and we will see more because of environmental climate migration, will change the real estate market, and I ask, will we be able to buy houses in our own state? We need the vision to recognize that and do something about it. This is the big difference between us.
The governor reacts well, but where is his vision for a better future for Vermont.
VBM: Should you lose, will we keep hearing from you?
ZUCKERMAN: I certainly will remain active in the community. Our farm and family will get more of my time. But of course, I may win which would be remarkable in this COVID moment. There will be a large turnout. Studying the results should I lose will help define the next step. And maybe I would try again in a couple of years. I have been in office for 22 years, a long time of public service and I am just now 49 years old.