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Vt. Gov. Candidates Debate

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne tells a full house on Monday at Damon Hall in Hartland of the times he spent in the building while growing up in Hartland. Candidates Sue Minter and Peter Galbraith listen — it was the first debate in the state between the three Democrats seeking the party’s gubernatorial nomination. Valley News photographs — Geoff Hansen

  • Moderator Bob Hager, of Woodstock, holds his notes while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith gives his opening remarks.

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter talks of her experience as Vermont’s secretary of transportation in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene during a debate amongst the three candidates, including Matt Dunne, at left, in Hartland on Monday. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2016 12:19:47 AM
Modified: 3/29/2016 12:22:00 PM

Hartland — Though there may be little policy daylight between the three Democrats running for governor of Vermont, each candidate gave a sense of his or her governing style at a Monday night forum hosted by the Windsor County party committee.

Sue Minter, a former state representative and Vermont’s secretary of transportation, trades on her skills as an administrator.

Matt Dunne, a ex-Google executive and state senator, is brimming over with dreams for the future: He wants to create an economy that “works for all Vermonters” and bring broadband to the state’s “last mile.”

Former state senator and U.S. ambassador Peter Galbraith, as of last week the newest entrant, wants a few specific things done, and he wants them done now. He wants to raise the minimum hourly wage to $12.50, eliminate tax loopholes and keep wind turbines off Vermont’s ridgelines.

Perhaps the clearest illustration of their respective visions came through their answers to a question they all agreed upon: whether or not Vermont should have universal primary health care.

Dunne, of Hartland, told an anecdote from the end of his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, when his brother suffered a life-threatening stroke. The sick man worked two part-time jobs — “neither of which had health insurance,” Dunne said — and lacked a primary-care doctor to play “quarterback” and coordinate decisions. 

Not only should the fee-for-service model change, but every Vermonter should have access to a primary-care doctor, Dunne said, drawing loud applause from the hometown audience of more than 100: “That is our future. That is how we can move our state forward.” 

Minter, of Waterbury, told audience members the first thing was to make Vermont Health Connect function — in order, she said, “to restore faith in government.”

“I’m someone who believes in government, knows how to make it function and deliver for the public good,” she told the crowd.

The next step, she said, was to reform the payment system, and “get away from paying doctors based on visits, how many pills and how many procedures; instead to focus on outcomes.”

Galbraith, of Townshend, told the audience he agreed with his colleagues that universal health care was important.

But, he added, “I think the question about the need for reform ... was about how to pay for it. And this is the problem right now.”

He criticized past administrations for passing health care reform “without a system to pay for it,” which could only be a payroll tax, he said. “The governor, frankly, was unwilling to do it.”

Though the candidates often nodded along to one another’s remarks — at one point, Galbraith even joked about hiring Dunne to his future administration — they found a few ways to distinguish themselves on policy.

Minter has taken the lead in publicly supporting background checks on all sales of firearms, and on Monday night she tied her gun-control advocacy to a women’s-rights message.

“I really see gun violence as a crisis through this country,” Minter said, “and unfortunately we are not immune” — especially, she added, “behind closed doors,” a reference to domestic violence cases, in which she said a majority of Vermont’s murders involve a firearm.

Dunne and Galbraith said they agreed with Minter’s position.

Besides his marquee policies, Galbraith took the strongest stance against Act 46, Vermont’s school district merger law.

After the other two candidates expressed qualified support for the law’s central tenet — that consolidating districts will find economic efficiencies in an era of shrinking enrollment — Galbraith took another tack.

“It’s not clear to me that consolidation is going to save money,” he said. “It’s true that we have declining enrollment; it’s also true that we have better schools” — which he counted as a sort of economic resource in its own right.

Though the three candidates railed against money in politics, Dunne, who has returned gifts from corporate donors, proposed passing laws to limit campaign contributions in Vermont.

“Corporations are not people,” he said, in what was perhaps the biggest applause line of the night, “and we need to push back against the Supreme Court.”

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin is not seeking re-election and hasn’t endorsed anyone in his party’s primary.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, of Berlin, and retired Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman, of Shelburne, also are running.

At the end of Monday’s forum, Bob Hager, the moderator, noted that the Democratic field still could grow. House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, entered the race early on but dropped out in November as his wife battled breast cancer.

Since then, her condition has improved, and Smith has said she is encouraging him to re-enter. 

The filing deadline for party candidates is May 26, and party primaries are Aug. 9.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at or at 603-727-3242.

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