The Bennington Banner - The Three 'E's' Covered at Governor Debate
John D. Waller
Gubernatorial candidates focused on the three "E"s in Friday night's debate at the Riley Center for the Arts at Burr and Burton Academy.
Incumbent Republican Gov. James Douglas, his Democratic challenger, Speaker Gaye Symington and Independent Anthony Pollina answered a series of questions, most related to the economy, education and energy, from three panelists. The candidates gave two-minute responses to each question and a final three-minute closing statement. There was little back-and-forth among the candidates.
The 90-minute debate started with a question on the current state of Vermont's economy and asked how each candidate would work to grow it. All three candidates talked about creating jobs in renewable energy and efficiency. Pollina said he would take an "FDR" (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) approach to improving the state's economy.
"When the economy is weak, I think we hark on back to the days of FDR," he said. "We invest in people; we invest in infrastructure; and we put people to work so they can strengthen the economy."
Pollina said he has a $111 million economic recovery proposal that would create jobs in repairing infrastructure, building affordable housing and improving efficiency. He said under Douglas' administration job growth has been "pretty stagnant" and family income has dropped.
Douglas said he has worked to improve the economy in these tight times. He pointed to his economic-stimulus package and economic-growth plan. He said last month his administration, with the joint fiscal commission, worked to cut spending by $32 million, and he would look to continue to cut.
"I think we're going to have to tighten our belt some more," he said, "and establish some priorities and do the hard work of making fiscal decisions for our state."
Douglas said another meeting with the joint fiscal commission has been scheduled for November.
Symington also advocated for spending money wisely. She said money should go into early education so it is not needed later for special education and corrections. It should go into maintaining roads, she said, so it is not needed to rebuild them. In general, she said Vermonters have had a lot of anxiety about the way things are going.
"The cost of getting through the day is rising," she said, "faster than people's incomes can keep up." She also criticized Douglas' funding of public relations staff and said job creation and better telecommunications would be needed to keep young people in the state.
On education, Symington again stressed the need to fund early education, as did Pollina. She said Vermont schools regularly rank in the top tier and said Act 60 has worked to equal out educational opportunities throughout the state.
Douglas was critical of Act 60, the state's education funding law that requires wealthier towns to contribute to education funding in less-wealthy towns. "It's been a disaster for many communities around our state," he said.
Pollina said he was strongly against the two-vote mandate, which requires residents to vote twice on school budgets if they meet certain criteria, and the federal No Child Left Behind act. "I generally just don't believe in No Child Left Behind," he said.
He said there needs to be more talk about the quality of education and less about how it is funded.
All three supported consolidating educational governance structures throughout the state. They also supported leaving school consolidation up to local communities, noting the importance of school buildings as community centers.
In the discussion on energy, candidates were in favor of increasing renewable energy opportunities in the state and working to improve efficiency. Pollina said he wanted Vermont's energy to be, "Vermont-owned and Vermont-controlled," and said, "the cheapest, safest and cleanest energy is the energy we don't use."
Symington has set a goal of having 20 percent of Vermont's power come from wind in the next 10 years. She said most Vermonters are in favor of wind even if they can see the turbine from their own backyard.
Symington and Pollina supported large-scale wind farms if the local community was in favor.
Douglas did not, although he did support smaller wind projects. "Personally, I'm not a fan of industrializing ridge lines with huge turbines that are larger than half the Bennington Battle Monument," he said.
Douglas said more information needs to be gathered before he supports relicensing Vermont Yankee.
Pollina was opposed, and Symington said safety needs to come first and there needs to be a plan for Vermont's energy future.
The candidates' views differed on same-sex marriage and sex offender laws. Pollina and Symington said they support same-sex marriage. Douglas said he supports the current law, civil unions.
Douglas was in favor of a "Vermont-style" Jessica's law, civil confinement and a more comprehensive sex offender registry. Symington said there needs to be more discussions with public safety officers and prosecutors before decisions are made. She said she did not think long mandatory minimum sentences for sex offenders were a good idea.
Pollina said he would leave sentencing up to the judges. In general, he said, "Men and boys need to learn respect for girls and young women."
Attorney Rolf Sternberg, Burr and Burton Academy teacher John Wright and Lisa Souls of the Bank of Bennington served as panelists. The Manchester Journal's Andrew McKeever moderated the debate. The Manchester Journal also sponsored the event.