All by herself.
The event on WDEV, held under a gazebo at the Tunbridge World’s Fair, was billed as a gubernatorial debate, but Minter was the only candidate present.
Republican Phil Scott declined the WDEV invitation after moderator Mike Smith rejected the lieutenant governor’s requirement that Liberty Union candidate Bill “Spaceman” Lee be invited to participate.
An empty chair sat under the gazebo during the question and answer, with both Minter and Smith often referring to Scott’s absence. Scott instead held a news conference in Colchester Thursday morning in which he outlined his economic proposals and defended his decision to have preconditions to participate in the debate.
But Smith defended his decision to invite just the major party candidates, saying Lee “would occupy 30 percent of the time in the debate. He’s going to get 10 percent of the vote.”
Over the course of the debate, Smith frequently jabbed Scott for not attending the annual debate, one Scott has been a part of in previous years.
“Of course, during this time we would have the rebuttal if the Republican candidate was here,” Smith told his listeners at one point. “We are not having that rebuttal.”
With no rebuttals, Minter took her time to outline her vision for Vermont, her comments sometimes becoming redundant because of the amount of airtime she was expected to fill during the hourlong broadcast.
Surrounded by cattle and other indications of farm life, Minter unveiled details aimed at strengthening Vermont’s agricultural assets: farms, foods and the forest.
Acknowledging that “dairy farmers are struggling right now with depressed milk prices,” Minter promised to hire an agriculture secretary dedicated to fighting for higher milk prices on the federal level. She said the state should help farmers willing to transition to organic milk production, which often yields higher prices.
Minter said she would also look to fortify Vermont’s already strong brand for all sorts of products — from cheese to gin — adding that the state should encourage farmers to turn their raw materials into value-added products like ice cream and alcohol.
Minter described other facets of her signature economic proposal while expressing support for marijuana legalization and all forms of green energy – including wind power.
She also talked about her plan to offer two years of tuition-free schooling at community and technical college for Vermonters, which would be paid for through a franchise tax on banks.
Minter defended the plan against recent accusations from Vermont banking institutions that her plan would result in the loss of banking jobs.
Minter said banks should be productive parts of the community and pointed to the relatively flat amount banks have paid to the state in franchise fees over the last 10 years — roughly $10 million every year.
“I haven’t seen other people’s property taxes or other taxes remaining flat in this past decade,” she said.
She added that her college plan — called Vermont Promise — echoes successful programs in other states, including Tennessee.
Moderator Smith had a number of questions for Scott — on topics from gun control to education — which he delivered to the empty seat. Near the end of the debate, Minter had her own chance to question the chair, and took the opportunity.
“What I want to ask Phil is, if he opposes initiatives that help the middle class, how does his programs — or what programs does he have — that will make life more affordable for middle class Vermonters,” she said.
The chair, as expected, did not answer.