Pat Winburn is running for governor on a simple platform: say “yes” to the things Gov. Phil Scott has said “no” to, along with additional, more progressive initiatives.
A personal-injury lawyer based in Bennington, Winburn announced his run in the Democratic primaries in February. With no previous experience in state government, Winburn has been campaigning with the help of Sunrise, his daughter and campaign manager, and his dog, Alfie. He funded that campaign with $100,000 of his own cash and has since spent more than a third of that on local television ads, with some featuring his dog. Winburn sees the current governor as “just a nice guy,” with no opinions on the issues.
“What has he done? He’s done nothing,” Winburn said, going as far as calling Scott a “Trumpian Republican.”
“I’m tired of hearing people talk and not seeing things happen,” he said.
He decided to run for governor because Sen. Dick Sears (D) wouldn’t and said his platform is basically identical.
While his competition in the primary — David Zuckerman and Rebecca Holcombe — have years of experience in either state government or state agencies, Winburn said his outsider status and perspective will help him tackle Vermont’s biggest challenges. “When people have problems, they go to a lawyer,” he said.
Minimum wage, paid leave
Winburn wants both $15 minimum wage and paid family leave laws on the books.
“How do you praise essential workers in grocery stores and hospitals during a crisis and not believe they deserve a better, livable wage?” Winburn said. If he were governor, he said he’d work to get $15 minimum wage back to the floor of the Legislature and signed into law. On multiple occasions he’s challenged Scott to work for $15 an hour.
Winburn said the timing of Scott’s veto of the paid family leave bill couldn’t have been worse. If it made it past the governor earlier this year, the law could have done a lot of good for Vermonters during the pandemic shutdown.
“The way they had it set up — and (Scott) vetoed it — it would have been like unemployment insurance,” he said.
Winburn’s wife, Kim, was diagnosed with cancer in 2015.
“If we hadn’t had health care, she would have died,” he said. He has private healthcare insurance through his office, but doesn’t think that should be the only route to protection.
“I believe health care is a right. It’s our moral obligation to take care of people,” he said.
Winburn acknowledged that Vermont’s attempt at a single-payer system didn’t work, but he doesn’t think that means Vermont has to give up the fight. He hopes for a federal single-payer system, but pointed to Dr. Dynasaur — a state program that provides insurance to lower income children and pregnant women — as an example of how Vermont can do good work on its own.
“It would require a lot of different ideas and a lot of different resources,” he said.
Scott’s pandemic response
Winburn said he didn’t have much criticism for Scott on his handling of the pandemic, but that’s the only nice thing he had to say. Winburn compared Scott directly to President Donald Trump.
“He’s the same guy that headlines fundraisers with Gov. Scott Walker, who’s the most anti-labor politician in America,” he said. “He ran his first state Senate campaign on a platform of opposing civil unions.”
“You can’t deny that you’re a Trump Republican when all the things that you do show that you’re a Trump Republican,” Winburn said.
He’s the only Democratic candidate saying that. “This is not a tactic. Everything I say, I believe,” he said.
While the Republican governor has a high approval rating in a state that typically elects Democrats to statewide offices — his handling of the pandemic has been well received by Vermonters of all political perspectives — Winburn said that he doesn’t have any ideas for moving forward.
“When the coronavirus pandemic is over, we’re going to be left with all these other problems. What is your stance on these other problems?” he said, referring to what he called Scott’s lack of campaigning.
Police and racial justice
“As a white person, I think it’s my job to amplify the voices of people affected by systemic racism. And it exists everywhere,” Winburn said.
The solution? More training.
He said implicit-bias training should be required for every level of public employee, from clerks to representatives to police.
“I would say almost all cops in Vermont are good people. I think they’re trying to do their best and don’t realize they’re actually biased,” he said.
Winburn would also take the more moderate approach to the popular protest demand of “defunding the police.” We expect a lot out of the police department, and some of those are things that other professionals should be dealing with,” he said.
He would support reallocating a portion of Vermont State Police funds to mental health services and other specialists, “(professionals) who can give them preventative care and deal with it from an education standpoint and not just put the whole load on the police departments.”
Education and taxes
Winburn doesn’t want to compromise local schools to save a couple bucks. Consolidating administrative functions within districts is fine, he said, but closing small-town schools takes that too far.
“Smaller towns and smaller areas have a different sort of tradition for their schools. They have a need for local control, and people enjoy having control over their own schools,” he said. “We can’t avoid moving into the 21st century, but there are times when small schools need to be respected and they need to be preserved.”
How will the state pay for keeping small schools open and other costly education programs? “We need to tax pot,” he said.
Winburn thinks it’s time to make marijuana commercially available, and the revenue could help. “That’s not going to solve all of the problems, but if we’re going to make it legal, then we need to tax it, just like Canada does, and just like Massachusetts does, and Colorado.”
The rest of the money would come from the top down, he said, by taxing the top 5 percent of earners in the state at a higher rate. And, Windburn said, the wealthiest people won’t mind.
“I think that just the privilege of living in Vermont, in such a wonderful and beautiful place with such a high quality of life, would make people who are high earners want to pay their fair share.”