David Zuckerman thinks people work hard but are not paid enough.
“All of us who work at all the levels of our society deserve to be well enough compensated that we can live with the basic needs that we all have and the dignity that we all deserve,” he said.
Zuckerman is running for governor in both the Democratic and Progressive primaries, as he has done in the past. His main opponents are Rebecca Holcombe and Pat Winburn, Democrats, and Republican John Klar plus current Gov. Phil Scott.
He was inspired by Bernie Sanders to run, and he says the senator and former presidential candidate has endorsed him in every campaign he’s run.
Although he does not identify himself as a Democratic Socialist, as Sanders does, he said in an interview on Friday, July 10, it is an accurate description.
He said he supports programs to help small businesses get back on their feet and put Vermont’s economy on track after being derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been working on a policy with legislators and restaurant owners to allocate money to produce meals for people in need, using Vermont ingredients.
“Each dollar that goes into this program would alleviate two or three different challenges and will be spent multiple times. We know that COVID relief money is not enough to keep everybody whole. So, part of keeping everybody whole is investing in aspects of our society like restaurants and meals that will have second and tertiary beneficial effects both from a money and health perspective,” he said.
Missed bi-partisan opportunity
Zuckerman faulted Gov. Phil Scott for failing to form a coalition of “reasonable” Republican governors to push a state and municipal COVID funding bill.
“I haven’t seen that leadership. One thing you would see with me is being far more outspoken and far more collaborative to really help our federal delegation get Washington to do the right thing,” he said.
Scott’s strategy for dealing with the pandemic economic collapse is the opposite of what Zuckerman said he would do.
He said the governor has proposed slashing budgets, cutting education funding and other resources.
States are spending lots of tax funds, not being replenished with tax money that would normally be coming in, he said. He suggests going to the wealthiest to make up this shortfall.
“We know that we’ve had incredible wealth concentration over the last 40 years. The wealthiest have tremendously benefited from conservative economics and neo-liberal economics,” Zuckerman said. “It’s a time like this when you go to those folks and say, ‘Vermonters need your help.’”
He said former Gov. Richard Snelling had done this, going to the wealthiest in the early 1990s to get funds to help the state out of an economic slump.
“It’s shown over and over in economics, from the Great Depression and since, that if you put money into the economy, that’s how you jump start it. You don’t slash your way out of economic doldrums,” he said.
Zuckerman accused Scott of isolating him from the administration of which he’s been second in command for four years.
During a non-political, non-partisan state emergency like a pandemic, Zuckerman said, the lieutenant governor should be included in the effort.
If elected governor, Zuckerman said he would include his lieutenant in conference calls about the state’s health and economy during crises. They must be prepared in the event they need to step in as governor, he said.
He was also critical of Scott’s handling of unemployment insurance in the onset of the coronavirus crisis.
After getting hundreds of calls, Zuckerman said he sent a concerned letter to the Commissioner of the Department of Labor in mid-April. A few days later the governor declared the state would send out $1,200 coronavirus stimulus checks.
“Why did it take my letter to the Commissioner of the Department of Labor to trigger the governor to do that when it clearly could have been done two weeks or three weeks before that?” he asked.
Otherwise, he gives the governor high marks for most of his handling of the pandemic, though he did criticize Scott for not requiring people to wear masks.
Primary opponent and former Education Secretary Holcombe said publicly that Zuckerman is opposed to vaccinations.
He said the accusation is a distortion of his support for an exemption for people who had severe allergic reactions to vaccines. Although that amendment was defeated, he did vote in favor of the bill for vaccinations, he said.
Zuckerman said Democratic candidates should be not distorting any of the others’ views. Any of them would be a stronger candidate than Scott, he said.
“We have a very solid reactive governor. He does pretty well when things come up right in his face,” Zuckerman said.
He has done less well with long range future planning, according to his number two. Zuckerman used the example of the governor initially opposing gun restrictions but changing his position to support for a gun control bill after there was a gun shooting threat in a Vermont school.
He criticized the governor’s two vetoes of an increase in the minimum wage and veto of paid family leave.
“On the climate he’s done a great job of talking about his differences with the president,” Zuckerman said.
He argued, though, these are hollow words relative to the loss of 500 solar installation jobs and the lack of progress building the rural economy with “climate resilience jobs” and those in agriculture, forestry and broadband.
It was very different in January when Zuckerman said, because of the Trump tax cuts, he advocated a temporary tax increase on the top 5% that would have generated around $100 million a year to invest in affordable housing, broadband and weatherization jobs.
“Now, it may be we need to use those resources to get us through these economic doldrums,” Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman has made it a policy to meet with lots of people as lieutenant governor. He sees value in this because legislators tend to know a little bit about a lot of things, but individual constituents often know more about specific things.
As governor he plans to continue the practice of traveling around the state.
“You don’t have to be the governor who always works from Montpelier,” Zuckerman said. “I think it’s important to work from all over the state.”
He mentioned how the governor of New York, which had a much worse coronavirus pandemic than Vermont, has stopped holding what Zuckerman called a weekly “political press conference” about the progress of the virus.
“The information they could be disseminating doesn’t have to be done with the faux non-campaign appearance,” Zuckerman said. “I think, as I’ve said, he’s done a good job with COVID-19, but at some point, people have to see through this farce.”
Asked about the widespread removal of controversial monuments around the country, Zuckerman said he is not aware of any that need to be taken down locally but believes monuments should pay homage to the most upstanding people or events. If there are those honoring people whose history is more tarnished than the good they did for the state, that is a conversation we need to have, he said.
It is important for the police union and management to step up to properly to deal with or terminate officers who have a record of violence. He supports more transparency so the public will know about these incidents.
“Provisions in union contracts end up making it so that one bad apple does tarnish the whole lot because the whole lot is willing to stand behind and protect someone who has done fairly egregious events,” Zuckerman said.
He supports some reprioritization of police resources to such things as community mental health and economic development in impoverished communities.
“We’ve learned that the war on drugs is a failure, locking people up and throwing away the key is a failure and most of these laws have been disproportionately utilized on communities of color,” he said.
Asked about where he felt he was “on the spectrum of wokeness,” Zuckerman replied, “I don’t think any of us who have been born and raised in more fair skinned privilege will ever be fully woke.”
He said he has had many discussions with people who respond to the Black Lives Matter movement by asserting all lives matter. He said he asks them, “If we were to raise money for homeless veterans and say ‘veterans’ lives matter,’ would you push back and say, ‘No, all lives matter?’”
Of course, they wouldn’t, he said.
“The reality is with saying Black lives matter is that, until Black lives matter, then all lives don’t matter,” Zuckerman said.