by Joe Benning
This is an open letter to David Zuckerman, my opponent in the upcoming election for Lt. Governor.
Well David, looks like it’s me and you. I’ll repeat what I said when I called you a few months back when you were considering joining the race. We should use this as an opportunity to show Vermonters we can rise above the national fray and run only on our respective merits.
I suggest we first agree on the basic functions of the office we are actually running for: Lt. Governor. High platitudes, curing social ills and championing given causes have no realistic place in our race. Those discussions are dealt with in other offices. For those unaware, the job we’re running for has three basic functions. First, you moderate the Senate. Second, as part of a committee of three you decide which senators go on which committees and who chairs them. Finally, should the Governor be unable to continue his/her role, you take over that position.
I know this is boring inside baseball to some, but neither of us should use this race to tell Vermonters our election will cure climate change or provide health care for all, etc. That would be disrespectful to the voters. True, we can use the office to speak about things we appreciate, but we both know the Lt. Governor cannot draft legislation, cannot argue and vote in committee, and cannot debate or vote on the floor. At best, the Lt. Governor can break a tie. Simply put: advancing policy with legislation is not within the job description. Let’s agree we shouldn’t insult Vermonters by pretending the office is something it isn’t.
It is here I see the first of two major differences between us for voters to consider. For the entire primary, during your debates and press interactions, you’ve been speaking a language that appears (to me at least) not related to the job we’re running for. It appears you are using this campaign as a warm up for higher office. Having previously run against Phil Scott in 2020, it is pretty hard to now avoid the perception that you are using this race as a placeholder. We know Bernie’s term will expire in 2024 and it is quite possible Phil Scott may step down the same year. In either case, your present refusal to commit to re-election to Lt. Governor in 2024 makes your intention quite clear.
In my case, two things have me committed to running for Lt. Governor again in 2024. First, the Senate has just gone through Covid-19- the most trying time in its history since it was formed in 1836. We still have residual issues that will require institutional knowledge. You’ve been absent for almost all of that trying time. Secondly, one-third of the Senate is about to turn over. A revolving door Lt. Governor is the last thing the institution needs right now. My hope is that voters appreciate my commitment to that most august body.
The second major difference between us is how we’d treat this office in relation to Governor Phil Scott. The difference is especially glaring in the event either of us was expected to step into his shoes. On primary night you announced to your supporters that you were going back to Montpelier to “ride right over that hump” that was in your way. The “hump” you were referring to was Phil Scott. Of course, by extension you were also belittling his administrative team.
This is troubling on three counts. First, your election would set the stage for conflict between the two top constitutional offices at a time when the massive infusion of federal Covid-19 money is about to end. Secondly, as frugality becomes the order of the day, it is crucial that the Lt. Governor acts in support of a Governor who will need to deal with the pressures of critical needs versus a decreasing revenue stream. In your previous terms as Lt. Governor you were not welcomed in Phil Scott’s cabinet and, no matter who was to blame for that, it is clear the two of you would have difficulties being in sync. Finally, in the event you had to actually take the Governor’s place, your “hump” characterization doesn’t exactly endear you to the team currently running this 8.2 billion dollar corporation called the “State of Vermont.” That’s the team you’d have to rely on. Vermonters might consider that an important concern.
On the other hand, I’ve known Phil Scott for 12 years and consider him a friend. I’ve campaigned with him, advanced several of his bills through the legislature, and worked with his administrative team on a daily basis as Minority Leader and chair of Senate Institutions. A transition into his role with his team (should the need arise) would be virtually seamless for me. He knows that, which is one of the reasons he’s endorsed me in this campaign.
I’ll leave it to Vermonters to weigh whether these differences between us are worthy of their consideration.
The author is a lawyer, Caledonia County state senator, and Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. VDC will publish any response submitted by candidate Zuckerman.