Democrats Hold First Debate

11/20/09 7:35AM By John Dillon
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(Host) The five Democratic candidates for governor faced off for the first time last night in a forum that focused on environmental themes.

The candidates mostly agreed on the issues. But they tried to differentiate themselves on the details of the issues, their experience and their approach to governing.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The candidate's forum sponsored by the Vermont League of Conservation Voters was more of a sing-along than a debate.

(Racine) "We're going to sound like a broken record up here. But obviously I agree that the Housing and Conservation Board is absolutely an essential program for the state."

(Dillon) That was Chittenden Senator and former Lieutenant Governor Doug Racine defending a land conservation and affordable housing program that is near and dear to environmentalists' hearts.

Lamoille Senator Susan Bartlett said former Governor Howard Dean urged her to protect the program in good times and bad.

(Bartlett) "In the Legislature, there has been no bigger champion of Housing and Conservation than myself."

(Dillon) But that prompted Senate President Peter Shumlin to engage in a bit of rhetorical one-upmanship. Yes, he agreed Susan Bartlett was the undisputed champion of the land protection and housing program.

(Shumlin) "She's right. And it's actually the main reason that I made her chair of the Appropriations Committee nine years ago. (Laughter) It was part of her job interview!"

(Dillon) And so it went. The candidates had the questions in advance. They were speaking to an appreciative audience who liked what they heard. So the differences emerged in style and details.

The three lawmakers in the race, Shumlin, Racine and Bartlett, all touted their leadership in Montpelier. Bartlett said as chair of the main money committee in the Senate she was responsible for tough budget decisions. Racine said the two hallmarks of his political philosophy are protecting children and the environment. And Shumlin said his experience in both business and politics have prepared him to focus on jobs and the economy.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz portrayed herself as above the partisan fray, and she took an indirect shot at her opponents' lengthy legislative careers.  

(Markowitz) "Vermonters are tired of business as usual in Montpelier. They're tired of politics where there are winners and losers."

(Dillon) Former Windsor Senator Senator Matt Dunne - who now works for Google - promoted himself as the candidate of the future who could transform the Vermont economy.

(Dunne) "We must be a leader in the environmental movement. Because the fact is that we can be a leader in geothermal, wind and solar."

(Dillon) The five candidates all embraced renewable energy, including commercial scale wind energy. And all said they were reluctant to extend the life of Vermont Yankee beyond 2012.

And they said they would defend the state's environmental permit process while at the same time making it easier for businesses to negotiate.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Burlington.

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