Health care advocate Gekas sets sights on lieutenant governor office

Cassandra Gekas. VTD/Josh Larkin

Cassandra Gekas. VTD file photo/Josh Larkin

Cassandra Gekas is known for her work inside the Vermont Statehouse as a tenacious advocate on health care and women’s issues.

Until now, she has never run for office.

As the filing deadline for the November election drew to a close Thursday, Gekas filed a petition to challenge incumbent Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican. Gekas is running as a Democrat. She is also seeking a nod from the Progressive Party.

Until last week, Gekas was working as a health care advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. She said she had been mulling whether to run for office for seven or eight months, but the decision to run for lieutenant governor came on pretty quickly.

“When I talked to a lot of Democrats and Progressives, they were really encouraging me to run,” Gekas said. “We have really big decisions coming up on health care, economic development, and women’s issues. I’m passionate about all those things.”

With no Democratic nominee for the lieutenant governor’s seat, one of few high-ranking positions held by Republicans at the Statehouse, Gekas said she began having serious conversations about running last week and starting getting signatures on Wednesday, the day before the filing deadline.

At 30, Gekas is one of the younger candidates in the field this session.

Jake Perkinson, chair of the Vermont Democratic Party, said that was part of the draw.

“One of my emphases was to make sure we had a woman,” Perkinson said. “Particularly I’m excited that Cass is representing someone who’s on the younger side of the age range.”

He said the party has been trying to recruit women for statewide office. Gekas has advocated for progressive reforms on women’s issues for VPIRG as well as managing a women’s health clinic in Pittsburgh. She is currently finishing a master’s thesis on low-income mothers and access to transportation.

“She is progressive on women’s issues, and I think that she is really excited to bring that issue to forefront in lieutenant governor’s race,” Perkinson said.

 

“She’s got to name her issues. We don’t know what they are. I anxiously await to hear her thoughts as to why she’ll be better than Phil Scott.”

Jack Lindley chair,

Vermont GOP

Gekas has worked at VPIRG for two and a half years. She is a strong supporter of a single-payer system and has worked to change insurance regulation laws. In the past two years she advocated for laws to require insurance companies to cover midwife services and to disclose detailed information of claims they deny.

Gekas said her decision to run was a matter of where she thinks she can make the biggest difference.

“I love my work in the Statehouse,” she said. “I’m passionate about the issues. For a while I’ve been thinking about my career path and how I can make the biggest impact.”

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said he expected a challenger, but he was a little surprised that it was Gekas.

Scott said he acknowledges that an incumbent will have an advantage in an election because of name recognition, but he said, “I don’t take things for granted.”

Scott is no stranger to competition. He served five terms in the Senate and never ran unopposed.

“I’ve always thought of myself as a moderate Republican,” Scott said. “I’ve always had the ability and desire to reach across the aisle and make things work. I’m not in the limelight all the time, but that’s OK.”

Scott was one of only a few Republicans to vote for same-sex marriage in 2010.

Where Gekas has pushed for progressive health care reforms in the Statehouse, Scott is a fiscal conservative and is somewhat skeptical of a single-payer system.

As for health care reform, an issue that is shaping up to be a major one in the upcoming election season, Scott said he tries to be objective and open-minded about the efforts led by Gov. Peter Shumlin to move to a single-payer health care system.

Scott said he acknowledges that the state and the country need to do something to reform health care, but he said, he is skeptical of how the state plans to pay for it. Republicans were unable to get a law passed that would require the administration to produce a financing plan before the November election. Instead it will come out in January.

Scott said he has his doubts as to whether Vermont can implement a single-payer system.

“I just want to know where the money’s coming from,” he said.

Jack Lindley, chair of the Vermont GOP, said he is curious what topics Gekas will want to press in the lieutenant governor’s race.

“She’s got to name her issues,” he said. “We don’t know what they are. I anxiously await to hear her thoughts as to why she’ll be better than Phil Scott.”

Gekas plans to unveil her campaign platform sometime this week.

Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said he did not know Gekas had plans to run for lieutenant governor. Now that she is running for office, she has cut ties with VPIRG.

Burns said because the group is a nonpartisan organization, she could not work for VPIRG and run for office. Similarly, he said, the group does not endorse particular candidates.

Alan Panebaker

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