Democratic gubernatorial candidates find little disagreement during debate
There was very little distance on display between the Democrats running for governor.
During a Zoom forum Friday night hosted by Rights & Democracy, a social justice organization, all three Democratic gubernatorial candidates voiced support for a minimum wage increase and statewide paid family leave program, climate change policies, stabilizing the state’s struggling state college system, and expanding broadband.
And unlike the first Democratic debate — which was dominated by a back-and-forth between Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe over vaccination policy — no attacks between candidates.
Occasionally, the Democrats, Zuckerman, Holcombe and Bennington attorney Patrick Winburn, criticized Gov. Phil Scott, who announced Thursday that he was running for a third term.
“So many of the policies that Gov. Scott has delayed, scoffed at, he’s delayed he’s vetoed would have put Vermonters, and especially marginalized communities in a stronger place to address this virus,“ Zuckerman said, referring to minimum wage, paid leave, and broadband expansion.
“We need to win this governorship so that we’re not just talking about what we do, but so that we can implement the real policies that will help Vermonters.”
The three are vying for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to be decided in the Aug. 11 primary.
Holcombe and Zuckerman highlighted the importance of bolstering the Vermont State Colleges System, a month after the former chancellor of the system, Jeb Spaulding recommended closing three campuses. The VSC has said it needs millions in additional revenue to survive.
Holcombe pointed out that Vermont is one of only two states that lets students use state grants to pay for higher education out of state.
“So we’re spreading our money out in ways that other states don’t do and that reduces what’s available for supporting higher education in Vermont,” she said.
She added that she is in favor of partnering public school districts with the college system “to tighten the handshake between our post K-12 system, and those critical postsecondary opportunities.”
“This isn’t just about creating more money,” Holcombe said. “It’s also about transforming our institutions, so they create opportunity and vibrancy in our Vermont communities.”
Zuckerman said that the state college system needs short-term and long-term funding sources, and that he would consider progressive taxes as an option.
“I’m one of the only candidates who’s talked about raising taxes on the wealthiest and we need to look at that for funding many of these initiatives,” he said.
All three candidates voiced support for taxing marijuana, which the state legalized in 2018. The state has yet to establish a marketplace for the drug.
“If we’re going to make pot legal, then we should tax pot,” said Winburn, who believes the revenue should be used to pay for drug education programs for youth.
Winburn added that he was also in favor of funding free school breakfasts for children.
“The children of Vermont need to have good health, they need to have a boost when they start their day, and they can’t be worried about where their next meal is going to come from,” Winburn said.
The Bennington attorney once again tried to tie Scott, a moderate Republican who has frequently criticized White House policies, with President Donald Trump.
“Gov. Scott is, by all accounts, a nice person. But what happens when he gets reelected?” Winburn said.
“Gov. Scott is going to follow the same sort of policies that Donald Trump has followed. A Trump-Scott regime cannot be allowed to happen,” Winburn said.
All three candidates voiced support for climate change policies.
Zuckerman said he was in favor of boosting funding for home weatherization, and that he supported a “Green Mountain New Deal.”
He said this plan involves reaping $100 million taxes from the top 5% of earners in the state to pay for initiatives including broadband expansion, which would help Vermonters cut down on commuting.
Zuckerman says that the $100 million would come out of the tax cuts wealthy residents got from President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax reform.
Winburn said he wants Vermont to eliminate its carbon footprint by 2050.
On criminal justice, Holcombe and Zuckerman both said that they favored stronger de-escalation training tactics and reforming the parole and the cash bail system.
Holcombe noted that in 2018, more than 100 people remained incarcerated in Vermont because they lacked housing.
“That’s wrong, as your governor I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,” Holcombe said.
Zuckerman said that he wants to expand funding for Vermont’s office of racial equity, which, at this point, only has one employee.
“It’s absurd to have one person who’s got to do this with no staff,” he said.
Gov. Scott Files To Run For Reelection
By VPR Staff • May 28, 2020
Updated 3:23 p.m.
Gov. Phil Scott has filed to run for reelection, but the two-term Republican said in an email to supporters Thursday morning that the 2020 race “will not be a normal campaign.”
Scott, who faced a deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday to file his candidacy with the secretary of state, made the reelection announcement in an email and also on social media.
While Scott said he’ll seek a third term in office, he said he won’t allow the race to distract him from his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“As our state and nation continue to navigate a once-in-a-century challenge, Vermonters need and deserve a full-time governor who is focused on leading Vermont through the public health and economic crisis COVID-19 has created,” Scott said in an email. “This means, until the state of emergency is over, I won’t have a campaign staff or office, be raising money, or participating in normal campaign events.”
Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science Middlebury College, said Thursday that Scott’s announcement begs an important question.
“What about debates?” Davis said. “Will he participate in debates with other candidates, forums and so forth?”
Davis’ question does not have a clear answer right now.
Scott’s 2018 campaign manager, Brittney Wilson, did not respond to a media inquiry Thursday. When asked to whom reporters should direct campaign-related inquiries, Scott’s communications director, Rebecca Kelley, said there is no campaign staff to refer reporters to.
“Other than the governor, there isn’t a campaign spokesperson at this time,” Kelley wrote Thursday.
Scott was not available for comment Thursday.
Scott’s lone challenger in the Republican primary, John Klar, said he’s worried Scott will use the COVID-19 crisis to evade the debates that he said are cornerstones of the democratic process.
"Other than the governor, there isn't a campaign spokesperson at this time," - Rebecca Kelley, Communications Director for the Governor's Office
“The economy just can’t be put on hold, and I want to talk about those issues. And what the governor’s announcement shows to me is he wishes to avoid debates with me in the primary, and he sets the ground rules so he doesn’t have to participate,” Klar said. “He wants to rest on his laurels for two months on the COVID response, and I’d like to ask questions about not just his past there but his economic past as well.”
Democrats are raising concerns about Scott’s plans for a non-traditional campaign as well. Pat Winburn, one of three Democrats vying for the chance to challenge Scott in the general election, said he suspects Scott has ulterior motives for not wanting to engage in “normal campaign events.”
“He’s done a reasonable job with the coronavirus, but I think if he has to talk about his record, of vetoing family leave, of (the) $15 minimum wage veto … if he has to expose his record and debate about it, I think that would reveal a different side of Phil Scott, so I’m guessing that that’s his strategy,” Winburn said.
Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Terje Anderson said the long-term threat posed by COVID-19 means the state of emergency to which Scott has linked his campaign activities could last through the 2020 election cycle.
“He could well hide behind that until November. I hope he doesn’t,” Anderson said. “I think the tradition is we have debates that are open, that candidates come and participate and get challenged by the media, get challenged by their opponents, so hopefully, at the very least, after the primary we expect to see him out there engaging in debate … so it’s not just the halo of COVID he’s able to wrap himself in and [in doing so] avoid some of these harder questions.”
Kevin Ellis, a former Statehouse lobbyist who’s advised several previous campaigns, said Scott appears to be adopting a “classic Rose Garden strategy to protect your lead and don’t make any mistakes.”
“And if you’re not out and about, being accessible in debates and to the press and in town halls, you’re not going to make any mistakes,” Ellis said.
Scott said in his reelection announcement that “the least favorite part of my experience in public service has been the politics.” And Ellis said he takes the governor at his word.
"If you're not out and about, being accessible in debates and to the press and in town halls, you're not going to make any mistakes." - Kevin Ellis, former Statehouse lobbyist
Ellis, however, said he’s skeptical that Scott doesn’t have any political professionals assisting with his campaign, at least on a volunteer basis. As of the last campaign finance disclosure on March 15, Scott had raised about $50,000 toward his reelection bid. The disclosure shows that he was accepting donations as recently as March 12 - the day before he declared a state of emergency in Vermont due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bulk of Scott’s campaign expenditures so far have gone to a company called Optimus Consulting.
Even if Scott doesn’t field a campaign apparatus himself, there will likely be plenty of campaign material going out to voters on his behalf. A super PAC bankrolled by the Republican Governor’s Association spent nearly $4 million on Scott’s first two runs for governor. The PAC, called A Stronger Vermont, recently funded an online reelection ad on Scott’s behalf during this cycle.
Racing for governor while confined by COVID-19
Apr 9, 2020 Updated Apr 10, 2020
Yard signs are a big part of Pat Winburn’s campaign strategy, particularly in this area of the state where he’s not well known, he said.
As another candidate looking to increase his name recognition, the virus has not changed the campaign strategy of the Democratic candidate from Bennington very much either, Winburn said.
“I’ve been making phone calls today,” he said by phone on Saturday, April 4.
The primary election is scheduled for Aug. 11, and Winburn is reasonably confident it will happen then.
He said a couple weeks ago he had participated in an online forum sponsored by the Washington County Democrats on Zoom. He knew that Zuckerman and Holcombe had participated.
Although other candidates had participated, he wasn’t sure who because his Zoom wasn’t working. He’d had to participate by phone.
Winburn said he is scheduled to participate in a breakfast forum on June 15 in Brattleboro. He thinks they may have returned to traditional campaigning by then.
Like Klar, Winburn said he hadn’t seen much change in the success of his fundraising – but he hadn’t planned to rely on fundraising anyway.
“I am pretty much self-funded and have been since the beginning because I’m an unknown and I’m going to have to get my name out and get my message out,” Winburn said.
The bulk of his campaign funds are the $100,000 he put into his campaign. He’s spent about $75,000 of that on media. Probably the most visible of his media buys is his TV commercials, featuring his dog Alfie.
So, the virus crisis hasn’t had a lot of impact on the things Winburn had planned to do for his campaign. He does use his website winburn2020.com to campaign.
“It’s pretty much business as usual,” he said. “I’m ready for a second act. I may be 64 now, but I’m about to start my new career as a governor of Vermont. And I intend to win.”
Zuckerman, Holcombe spar over vaccination policy in first gubernatorial debate
By Kit Norton
Windham County Democrat Committee Chair John Hagen, top left, moderated the first 2020 Democratic gubernatorial debate Monday between Rebecca Holcombe, Patrick Winburn and David Zuckerman.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and former Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe argued over vaccination policy during the first debate between Democratic gubernatorial candidates Monday evening.
While the Zoom debate, hosted by the Windham County Democratic Committee and moderated by committee chair John Hagen, was billed as a discussion of health care, the Covid-19 pandemic and the economy between Zuckerman, Holcombe and political newcomer Patrick Winburn, the former education secretary quickly used her opening statement to target the lieutenant governor and his views on vaccines.
Holcombe said that Zuckerman has disputed the science beyond immunization and called this stance “misguided and dangerous.”
Zuckerman took umbrage with Holcombe’s comments and asked her to stop “distorting” his views on vaccination before pivoting to focus on Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
“Attacking each other in general and especially with this false information and incomplete information is not how we’re going to beat Phil Scott,” Zuckerman said. “All three of us have to come together in unity at the end of this primary to take on the governor.”
Zuckerman added that it is important that a coronavirus vaccine is “universally accessible and free.”
“I will trust the scientists when the vaccine comes out,” he said.
Holcombe returned to the issue in her next turn to speak and asked Zuckerman if he would support requiring a Covid-19 vaccine before children return to school.
Zuckerman said he supports the current vaccine legislation, which requires vaccinations for schoolchildren but allows exemptions for religious and medical reasons.
Holcombe’s line of attack zeroed in on Zuckerman’s 2015 support for the philosophical vaccine exemption. The then-state senator opposed repealing the exemption in a debate on the Senate floor. Nevertheless, that year Vermont became the first state to eliminate an exemption in state law that allowed parents to opt their children out of mandatory vaccinations on philosophical grounds.
In the 2015 debate, Zuckerman said the science of vaccination safety was “disputed,” and lawmakers were “legislating what is put in people’s bodies,” according to a Seven Days report at the time. During that period, Zuckerman also advocated for the labeling of genetically modified organisms in packaged foods.
In 2018, during his successful reelection bid for lieutenant governor, Zuckerman was asked to clarify his stance on vaccines at a candidates’ forum.
“The science behind vaccines is sound, I think vaccines do good for our communities, my daughter is vaccinated, but it’s a question of whether or not government should be forcing that onto individuals, which is different than a scientific question,” Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman said his skepticism has more to do with distrust of the pharmaceutical industry than of vaccines.
The race between the three candidates will be decided in the Democratic primary on Aug. 11.
While much of the debate Monday was dominated by discussion of vaccines, Holcombe, Zuckerman and Winburn agreed on other issues, including the need for universal broadband access and flaws in the forced school district merger law.
“I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but reelecting Gov. Scott will be the same as reelecting Donald Trump,” Winburn, a lawyer from Bennington, said. “Gov. Scott is a Trump Republican.”
During Zuckerman’s closing statement, he made the case that he is the candidate to challenge Scott in the general election, and that he disagrees with the conventional wisdom that the coronavirus pandemic has made the Republican governor a stronger candidate.
“Little known fact: In 2018 I actually got 7,000 more votes than Gov. Scott,” he said. “I am best positioned to take him on and beat him, especially in the Covid-19 crisis.”
In Holcombe’s closing remarks, she agreed with Zuckerman that Democrats must work together to defeat Scott before returning to the topic of vaccination and hinting that Zuckerman’s views make him a liability in a general election.
“This is a serious issue related to electability in the middle of a deadly pandemic,” she said. “Nobody who holds that position is going to defeat Scott in 2020.”
In her first bid for statewide office, Holcombe has repeatedly targeted Zuckerman for his 2015 remarks on vaccines.
In March, Holcombe criticized Zuckerman in a Politico article, calling his stance on vaccinations dangerous, especially during a time when Vermont is in a state of emergency and dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the time, Zuckerman dismissed the criticism and charged Holcombe with exploiting the crisis to score political points.
Cameron Russell, Holcombe’s campaign manager, told VTDigger at the time that the candidate planned to make vaccination a crucial point of contrast with Zuckerman as the race moved into the summer and fall.
On Wednesday, May 6, the Republican Governors Association released a statement claiming that Vermont Democrats could nominate a “fringe anti-vaxxer” for governor, referring to Zuckerman.
The RGA used Holcombe’s statement in Politico as well as comments from a virtual town hall in April to condemn Zuckerman.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, David Zuckerman’s position on vaccinations isn’t just fringe nonsense – it’s downright dangerous,” said Amelia Chassé Alcivar, RGA communications director, in a statement.
The RGA’s attack fails to mention that in 2018 several Republican nominees for governor espoused vaccine skepticism or that recently ousted Republican governor, Matt Bevin, of Kentucky, publicly said he was against vaccinating his children for the chickenpox.
The messaging from the RGA, which is dedicated to electing and supporting Republican governors across the country, was the latest in as many weeks indicating it has taken an interest in the Vermont gubernatorial race.
On May 1, the organization announced it was airing a digital advertisement highlighting Gov. Phil Scott’s response to the coronavirus.
The ad, which was paid for by the RGA-backed political action committee “A Stronger Vermont,” aired through May 8 on Facebook and Instagram before going inactive.
Scott has not yet announced whether he will seek reelection, even as he faces a primary challenger — Republican John Klar, who is running as an “Agri-publican.”
Earlier this year, Scott had said he would announce his intentions in May — after the end of the legislative session. But now that timeline is out the window as he has turned his attention exclusively to dealing with the state’s response to the coronavirus.
“It’s probably been the last thing on my mind — I got a lot on my plate as you might imagine these days and so that that hasn’t been something that I’ve been considering,” Scott said during a May 1 press briefing.
While Scott, who consistently polls as one of the most popular governors in the country, has yet to announce his intentions in 2020, it is widely expected he will seek reelection and that he will be a formidable opponent for a Democratic challenger.
However, Democrats are doing their best to dent the Republican governor’s armor and have recently targeted Scott’s opposition to expanding mail-in voting for the general election.
Both Holcombe and Zuckerman have called on the governor to immediately approve of Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos’ plan to ensure that all active voters in the state are sent ballots for the November elections.
And on Wednesday, the Vermont Democratic Party announced it was beginning a five-figure digital ad campaign underscoring Scott’s resistance to the vote-by-mail expansion.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated that Zuckerman proposed banning GMOs in packaged food. He advocated for the labeling of genetically modified organisms in packaged foods
Winburn in the race for governor
Posted Wednesday, March 4, 2020 7:33 pm
By Jim Therrien, Bennington Banner
BENNINGTON — Patrick Winburn made his candidacy for governor official Wednesday, advocating changes to elevate more Vermonters toward economic security and promising decisive action.
Winburn also issued a challenge to Gov. Phil Scott to take a salary of $15 an hour until every worker in the state reaches that level, saying he will do that if he is elected.
The Bennington attorney made his formal announcement at the Winburn Law Office on Main Street, surrounded by more than a dozen family members, friends and local supporters.
"I want to make a challenge to Gov. Scott here today," Winburn said. "Gov. Scott, you should take $15 an hour for your salary as governor. If I am elected, my salary will be $15 an hour until the hardworking people of Vermont get a raise to $15."
Referring to a recently approved minimum wage increase in stages from $10.96 to $12.55 by 2022, Winburn termed those hikes "all half-measures. We have got to get it done. This is important to all Vermonters."
Also referring to vetoes by Scott that have blocked or slowed progressive changes that easily passed the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Winburn likened those vetoes to a cork in a bottle, holding back progress on a range of issues.
The governor's veto of the minimum wage hike was overriden by the Legislature on Feb. 24, clearing the two-thirds threshold by a single vote in the House.
While he thinks Scott is "a nice guy," Winburn said he believes the governor has basically described the major problems facing Vermont but hasn't taken decisive steps to address them.
"He is the governor; where is the plan coming from?" Winburn asked. "The plan comes from the top, the plan comes from who's in charge."
'A progressive Democrat'
Winburn has described himself as a "a progressive Democrat," and said he is an admirer of independent presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and usually agrees on issues with state Sen. Dick Sears of Bennington.
His goals include enactment of a higher minimum wage; paid family leave, universal access to affordable health care, initiatives to combat climate change, and stepped-up efforts to address the opioid addiction crisis."
In seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, Winburn will likely face Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and former Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, in the Aug. 11 primary, with the winner expected to face the two-term Republican governor in November or his primary challenger John Klar.
Hitting on a theme he detailed in a Feb. 3 interview, Winburn said he has only one purpose in mind in seeking the office: "I am going to Montpelier to get things done."
"There are a lot of issues, and today is just the beginning," Winburn said. "Family leave is a family value. Mud season in January? Something is not right; there is a problem ... We need a government in the sunshine. We need no secrets from the people that the government is supposed to represent."
He added, "The opioid crisis is killing our citizens. If we fail to do anything about it after talking about, then all we are doing is entertaining each other other while nothing happens. And that is why my intention is to get things done."
Health care for all is a right, it's a moral responsibility that we all have," he said. "It's an important corner stone of our moral existence."
Concerning economic opportunity, Winburn reiterated his over-arching proposal to "reshuffle the deck" to elevate those "who were dealt a bad hand" in the past.
Referring to a deck of playing cards, Winburn has said that is what is needed is a reshuffling of the economy, or what he calls "the great reshuffling.
"The deck of cards was dealt out in the 20th century," Winburn said during an interview, "and some people got a really good hand, and that's fine for them, and some people got a really bad hand. A lot of people got a really bad hand. What I propose is that we reshuffle the cards."
That would mean the Legislature and other leaders deliberating in an open process and then agreeing on how to reshuffle the current economic "hands," he said, adding that the same should be done nationally.
Winburn referred to a recent analysis that showed that about 1 percent of Americans control about eight of nine pie slices of the American economy, and that the rest of the population is left to vie for a single slice.
He believes the issue has to be framed well to the voters, but that "anybody who sees that will think, `Well, that's a screwed up system. That's unfair."'
Attending the announcement, former state Rep. David Shaffe, said of Winburn, "I think he is a very nice man and I think he would do a good job in the position ... I think he has a lot of talent. If he got through the primary and got elected governor, I think he would do a good job."
"I've known Pat for years," said attorney Raymond Bolton. "He is very informed, very knowledgeable, very accomplished, experienced. He would do a great job; I hope he gets elected. He would go there and really make some positive change."
Winburn has had a 40-year career as a trial lawyer, primarily representing clients in personal injury suits. He said he's participated in cases around the state, representing several thousand Vermonters in total.
"Accident cases are insurance cases, most people think accident cases are something else," he said during an interview. "I've never taken anybody's house away; it's always a battle against insurance companies."
Winburn said he's met, and often befriended, people throughout the state's legal system, state government departments or the world of politics. In addition to his trial work, he is a past president of the Vermont Trial Lawyers Association and now serves as a board member.
Winburn said he's been meeting with friends and potential supporters in Bennington County in recent weeks and now plans to meet with groups and individuals around the state. He plans to travel with his daughter, Sunrise Winburn, his campaign manager and administrator of the campaign website.
Also going on the road, he said, will be the family dog, Alfie, another attendee of the announcement.
"People should be the people their dogs think they are," Winburn said, "and politicians should be the politician their dogs think they are, and we all need to listen to Alfie."
Winburn, 64, and his wife, Kim, live on Walloomsac Road, not far from the Bennington Battle Monument.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien
Bennington lawyer joins Vermont gubernatorial race
By Calvin Cutler |
Posted: Wed 7:13 PM, Mar 04, 2020 |
Updated: Wed 7:20 PM, Mar 04, 2020
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Add another candidate to the list of Democrats who want to be Vermont governor. Pat Winburn, a lawyer from Bennington, recently announced his candidacy, along with a pricey early television ad buy.
"Some of you may be wondering why my dog Alfie is in most of my TV ads," Winburn said in his new TV spot. "Well, I'll tell you. It's because he's so good looking..."
Winburn is a political newcomer in Vermont. He introduced himself to Vermonters Tuesday in the ad campaign. "We need to have a governor who isn't going to veto everything and just say 'no,' and really obliviously not have a plan," Winburn said.
He's up against Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman and and former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe in the Democratic primary -- both with experience in Montpelier and better name recognition.
"We'll get over the barrier by going out and meeting people, bringing Alfie. My daughter Sunrise will come with me. We're hitting the road," Winburn said.
And getting on TV... He's spending three-quarters of his $100,000 campaign coffers on an early ad blitz, inlcluding on WCAX.
"We have a brave little state, a small state, but you just can't meet everybody face-to-face, but I'm trying to do that with my advertising and saying hello," Winburn said.
Political analysts say candidates getting off the ground sometimes have to drop some cash into the race. However, too much self-funding can be a double-edged sword. Campaign fundraising is in itself campaigning. If you're independently funding, you're losing that opportunity to interact with some of the electorate," said Bert Johnson, a political science professor at Middlebury College.
Johnson says leading up to the primaries, viable candidates in Vermont are likely to spend upwards of a half-million dollars to have a chance at winning. We'll get a better idea of just how much all of the candidates are raising -- and spending -- on March 15, when their next campaign finance reports are due to be released.
Bennington attorney to run for governor
Posted Thursday, February 6, 2020 7:45 pm
BENNINGTON — Six of Vermont's governors have hailed from Bennington; Patrick Winburn hopes to become the seventh.
The local attorney is poised to enter the Democratic primary race, which now includes Lt. Governor David Zuckerman and former Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe. The primary winner is expected to face Republican Gov. Phil Scott or his Republican challenger, John Klar, in the November election.
A progressive Democrat, Winburn said one of his goals in running is to break the current legislative deadlock in which Scott has vetoed or otherwise stalled a number of initiatives proposed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
"The Legislature is trying to get something done," Winburn said, mentioning the work of House and Senate leaders to push minimum wage, family leave and marijuana sales and taxation bills.
"[Bennington] Sen. Dick Sears is banging his head against the wall trying to get things done, and [Sen.] Brian Campion is trying to get things done, and even the governor wants to do some good things, but he just is not letting it happen as much as it ought to," Winburn said.
That is the case, as well, with "tax reform, education reform, climate change and there are other issues," he said.
Winburn agreed with the governor when he recently listed a number of problems the state faces, but he said Scott did not follow that up with dynamic solutions.
"You're the governor; aren't you supposed to have a plan?" he said of Scott. "I'm not being critical in a negative way, but he is the governor."
Winburn said many Vermonters, including him and his friends, have been "talking and talking" about the state's problems, "but we are done talking about it; we have got to do something about it."
He added, "I'm not saying, like Donald Trump, that I am the only person who can do it, but I would pull the plug that is in the water bottle. I would pull the plug and let all the good things come out."
That, Winburn asserted, "is what the governor is doing right now; he is like a cork; he's got the stopper in the whole thing. He's got one foot in Donald Trump Republican politics; he's got another foot in Vermont Republican politics, but there is a big difference between George Aiken and Donald Trump."
"I want to be [like] George Aiken," he added, referring to the legendary Vermont governor and longtime U.S. senator.
"My purpose in running is not to be somebody," Winburn said. "My family thinks I'm somebody and that's enough for me. I'm running to get something done."
Talking with friends
Thus far, Winburn said, he's been talking to friends and potential supporters in Bennington County and around the state, but doesn't plan a formal announcement until March 4.
"What I am doing now is winding the clock," he said during an interview, "and on March 4 I'll be done winding."
Over a 40-plus year career — primarily as an active trial lawyer representing clients in personal injury suits — Winburn said he's participated in cases around the state, representing several thousand Vermonters in total.
Winburn has tried more than 75 civil jury trials to a verdict, he said, twice winning verdicts in excess of $1 million for his client.
And as the Winburn Law Office website makes clear, the firm does not represent insurance companies; it typically battles them when filing suit on behalf of someone who has suffered injuries.
"Accident cases are insurance cases, most people think accident cases are something else," he said. "I've never taken anybody's house away; it's always a battle against insurance companies."
During his career, Winburn said he's met, and often befriended, people throughout the state's legal system, state government departments or the world of politics, some of whom he consulted while deciding to run for governor.
In addition to his trial work, Winburn is a past president of the Vermont Trial Lawyers Association and now serves as a board member.
On the issues, he said, "I am a progressive Democrat. But the best way of describing me is, if you know where Dick Sears stands on issues, then you know where Pat Winburn stands on issues."
In the past, Winburn said, he tried to get the Bennington Democrat to run for governor. He added that he hopes Sen. Brian Campion "and the rest of the Bennington delegation" will support his bid for governor.
Winburn said he wants to focus as governor on the opioid crisis, which he said "is having a devastating effect on many, many Vermonters."
From his observations and conversations with Bennington County Probate Judge D. Justine Scanlon and other Vermont judges, including members of the Vermont Supreme Court, Winburn said it is clear the crisis "permeates the entire court system" and the lives of many state residents.
"Not only economically, but it just devastates people's existence," he said. "It's a health issue; it's a crime issue; it's a moral issue, and it's not really being talked about as much as it ought to be."
Winburn said a good example of his cork analogy is the lack of movement toward retail sale-and-tax legislation for marijuana, which Sears and others have promoted and over which the governor has raised objections.
"If pot is legal, we are losing all of the taxes to Williamstown, to Massachusetts," Winburn said. "That money could go into the coffers of Vermont. If it is going to be legal, then it should be legal and there should be taxes, just like you tax alcohol."
Marijuana tax revenue could be a partial offset for property taxes, he said, which are commonly cited as being too high in Vermont.
On the governor's proposal to legalize sports betting, Winburn said, "I'm not so much sure on that; I think it preys on people who are weak and takes their last dollar. I think the Lottery is fine, if there are limits and guidelines set."
'Reshuffle the deck'
Winburn is also a strong, long-time supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying he believes Sanders will be well on his way to becoming the Democratic presidential nominee after March 3, the date of Super Tuesday, when 15 states will hold primaries.
Similar to a Sanders proposal, what Winburn will put forth, he said, "is what I call the 'great reshuffling.'"
Referring to a deck of playing cards, Winburn said that is what is needed is a reshuffling of the economy.
"The deck of cards was dealt out in the 20th century," Winburn said, "and some people got a really good hand, and that's fine for them, and some people got a really bad hand. A lot of people got a really bad hand. What I propose is that we reshuffle the cards."
That would mean the Legislature and other state leaders deliberate in an open, democratic process and then reshuffle the current economic hands, he said, adding that the same should be done nationally.
Winburn referred to a recent analysis that showed that about 1 percent of Americans control about eight of nine pie slices of the American economy, and that the rest of the population is left to vie for a single slice.
He believes the issue has to be framed well to the voters, but that no matter a person's political leanings, "anybody who sees that will think, `Well, that's a screwed up system. That's unfair."'
On a state level, he said, "Vermont is a microcosm of the country; we have a little over 600,000 residents, but we are an example to the rest of the country."
He believes ways can be found to reduce inequities in the state and nationally, but he realizes "that you have to keep in it perspective; you can't just go and be a big spender, and just start squandering money."
He adds, "Part of a lot of things is frugality. Climate change is about frugality."
Winburn cited of recycling or switching to reusable containers rather than throw-aways.
Winburn said he would look at immigration to help address Vermont's population decline.
"What you do is try to make it more appealing to young people ... not having any sort of an image of a racist state," he said. "That turns young people off."
He said Vermont has to maintain "a reputation of being diverse, to have a reputation of being fair."
Vermonters also "have got to keep one foot in the 20th century and put the other foot in the 21st century," he said, referring to the internet and other services young people and business owners demand.
"You spend money to invest, then it is like watering a seed, and it will grow. Those seeds will grow into trees."
Meaning in that case, he said, additional residents, businesses and tax revenue.
"Another thing I think we are missing the boat on is immigration," he said, adding that his ancestors and those of almost every American migrated from another country at some point.
"We want people from other countries to come in; they are hungry for work, and Vermont employers are hungry for employees I think that that is an answer."
Over time, he said, new residents will be accepted the way the Irish, French, Italians, Canadians, Japanese and others have.
Winburn owned and used guns as a youth, and he understands that for many, "it's not about guns; it's about going out in the woods with your friends and having a good time And it's about shooting deer, and I have no problem with that. I've done it myself."
He didn't like killing deer, he said, and hasn't used guns since his 20s. But he added, "I think people make a mistake when they categorize gun owners as people who love to blow up stuff."
It is a matter, he said, of different people trying to understand each other, "and that requires listening to each other."
In his law practice, Winburn said, he has "battled it out in courtrooms for 40 years," primarily with insurance companies trying to prevent or lower payments to someone who has been injured in some way.
"Those guys play for keeps," he said of attorneys representing large companies.
That experience, he believes, has prepared him well for the criticism and sharp political elbows he would no doubt face as governor.
Of his expected primary opponents, Zuckerman and Holcombe, he said he doesn't expect that kind of battle.
"I think they are both fair and square people," he said, "and may the best person win."
Winburn said his daughter, Sunrise Winburn, will be his campaign manager and maintain the campaign website [https://www.winburn2020.com/].
Winburn, 64, and his wife, Kim, live on Walloomsac Road, just west of the Bennington Battle Monument.
The six Vermont governors from Bennington were Moses Robinson, Isaac Tichenor, John S. Robinson, Hiland Hall, John G. McCullough and William Wills.
In addition, Jonas Galusha was from Shaftsbury and Richard Skinner was from Manchester
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien
Bennington attorney drops $100K of his own money on gubernatorial run
Patrick Winburn, a personal injury lawyer from Bennington, launched his campaign for governor last week with a $100,000 infusion of his own cash.
Winburn, a Democrat, said Monday he’s already spent some $75,000 on television ads (about $60,000), social media ads (about $10,000) as well as flyers and yard signs (about $5,000).
In one of those ads, he promised to reshuffle the proverbial deck of cards to deal people a new hand in 2020; in another he explains that his dog, Alphie, features in his ad campaigns because Alphie is better looking than his owner.
Winburn, 64, said he thinks former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, the other candidates for the Democratic nomination, are perfectly good candidates, but that he brings a fresh perspective to the major issues facing Vermont due to his three decades as a trial lawyer, often representing Vermonters against insurance companies.
“I think they’re very nice people, I’ve met both of them, I don’t know them,” he said. “I think I bring a different set of skills.”
The attorney named the opioid crisis and climate change as two of Vermont’s most pressing challenges. He said he’s not a “one-man solutions making machine,” but would engage the Legislature in a “deliberative process” and then take action.
“We’ve talked and talked and talked, and we’ve talked enough,” he said. “I wanna get things done.”
Winburn said Gov. Phil Scott has been standing in the way of good ideas coming out of the Legislature — paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage among them — and that one of his selling points is his support for those proposals.
“Gov. Scott is like a water bottle, all these good ideas, it’s all bottled up inside a water bottle and waiting for somebody to do things,” he said, “to pull the water bottle stopper and just let the ideas flow.”
Winburn said that on the issue of opioid addiction, which he believes is the biggest problem facing Vermont, universal health care coverage — including mental health treatment — was an important part of helping Vermonters recover. He said the financing for expanded health coverage could come from a range of sources: a slight increase to the sales tax, higher taxes on the rich, and perhaps some of the marijuana sales tax revenue.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Holcombe in Waterbury on Monday, March 2, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger
Winburn’s TV ads are light on policy, but his website lists government transparency as another priority, along with paid family leave, climate change and the opioid crisis.
He criticized Scott for vetoing the Legislature’s latest minimum wage proposal, which will raise the minimum wage to $12.55 over two years (the veto was overridden in the Legislature), and said he would work for no more than $15 an hour if elected governor.
Winburn said that the self-financed jump-start to his own campaign was necessary to make up the head start that Holcombe and Zuckerman have in name recognition.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman discusses his 2020 campaign plans at the Statehouse on Jan. 7, 2020. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger
“If I don’t put my money where my mouth is and make some effort on advertising and doing the things I’m doing now — going around shaking hands — I will be at a disadvantage,” he said.
The campaign of Rebecca Holcombe, a former education secretary running for the Democratic nomination, has raised more than $300,000 since July.
Campaign finance filings are due for statewide races by the end of this week, and will give a full picture of where Holcombe’s money is coming from, and whether Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman is catching up after launching his gubernatorial bid in January.
Gov. Phil Scott, who remains the presumptive Republican nominee, but says he won’t officially announce his plans until May, has $106,053 left over from his last campaign.
Winburn, who announced his candidacy on March 4, said he spent Friday campaigning in Danby, East Dorset, Pittsford, Middlebury, and Shelburne, along with his dog and his daughter, Sunrise, who is volunteering as his campaign manager. He said he planned to spend the weekend in the Burlington area, meeting voters and shooting some new ad campaigns.
Holcombe’s campaign manager, Cameron Russell, said Holcombe is glad to hear another candidate is joining the Democratic field.
“In the same vein that we welcomed Zuckerman to the race we’re just excited that people are going to join the chorus of folks who are putting themselves forward and wanting to hold the administration accountable for lack of action on behalf of all Vermonters,” Russell said.
Russell said that Holcombe doesn’t have a “comprehensive platform” on the opioid crisis but that she’s consistently addressing the issue on the campaign trail.
“We’re talking about criminal justice reform, housing, cost of living. We’re talking about wages, access to health care, I think there are many issues that layer with the opiate epidemic and substance use disorder,” he said.
Zuckerman also welcomed Winburn to the race. “To me the more people and more ideas that we all get to talk about the better, that’s democracy,” he said.
The lieutenant governor said that part of his strategy to address the opioid crisis would be to bolster affordable housing in the state.
“Other folks who are struggling with substance abuse disorder are having a hard time making enough money to pay their bills and that kind of stress and challenge often leads to more folks slipping into the problem in the first place,” he said.
Zuckerman said that he doesn’t believe the approach of self-financing a political campaign is “typically successful.”
“My campaign is going to be based on grass roots and connections all over the state that I’ve built over many many years,” he added.
Winburn said that he also hoped to shift to a more crowd-funded campaign as he spreads the word about his candidacy.
“I will do it the Vermont way,” he said, “if you have lots and lots of supporters who are contributing $15 or whatever you can afford, that’s where your power comes from.”