Minter shares proposals in one-person radio ‘debate’

Sue Minter
An empty chair stands in for Republican Phil Scott as Democrat Sue Minter talks with WDEV radio moderator Mike Smith on Thursday at the Tunbridge World’s Fair. Scott declined to participate. Photo by Jasper Craven/VTDigger
TUNBRIDGE — Amid sounds of clucking chickens, mooing cows and chain saws, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter shared her policy proposals during a radio “debate” Thursday morning.

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.”

Sue Minter
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter. File photo by Roger Crowley/VTDigger

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.

Her agriculture plan can be viewed here and the full broadcast is available here.

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.

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Jasper Craven

About Jasper

Jasper Craven is VTDigger’s political reporter. A Vermont native, he first discovered his love for journalism at the Caledonian Record. He double-majored in print journalism and political science at Boston University, and worked in the Boston Globe’s Metro and Investigative units. While at the Globe he collaborated on Shadow Campus, a three-part investigative series focused on greed and mismanagement in Boston’s off-campus student housing market. The series was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.
He also spent two years at MuckRock, a news sited dedicated to investigation and analysis of government documents. 

Craven covered Vermont’s U.S. Congressional delegation for the Times Argus in the summer of 2014, and worked as a Metro reporter for the Chicago Tribune before joining the staff of VTDigger.

Email: [email protected]

Follow Jasper on Twitter @Jasper_Craven

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  • todd spayth

    FREE advertising!! How/why does a candidate NOT take advantage of this? Because he couldn’t bring a third party candidate? I do think that all potential candidates should be given equal access to “free” media but, this decision seems foolish at best.

  • Tom Sullivan

    “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”

    Who does she think will pay for those initiatives that will “help” the middle class? Answer: The middle class!

    • Irene Stewart

      Minter has already said she will be raising taxes – on everyone. She won’t help the middle class, she will further destroy the middle class in Vermont. An extension of Shumlin and his tax and spend policies. We cannot afford Minter in Vermont.

      • Walter Carpenter

        “Minter has already said she will be raising taxes – on everyone.”

        Do you have evidence of this? Is there a definite line where Minter says she is “raising taxes — on everyone?”

        • Minter’s cagey reply, “I will balance the budget. I will be a good steward of the people’s money. I will look at the economic impact of every spending and raising decision.” In other words, no, I won’t avoid raising those taxes.

          Dunno Walter, guess you missed it. This was her response yesterday to Smith’s question about income, sales and corporate income tax increases. Seems she expects the middle class to do more heavy lifting on taxes. Keep in mind that Shumlin claimed to not raise the income tax- instead he and the legislature changed the tax code to reduce deductions, making the effective tax rate higher.

    • Walter Carpenter

      “Who does she think will pay for those initiatives that will “help” the middle class? Answer: The middle class!”

      Well, she’s right, how do Scott’s programs, if he has any, help the middle class?

      • Tom Sullivan

        ” how do Scott’s programs, if he has any, help the middle class?”

        He lets people keep more of they’re own money. For example, wouldn’t you like to not pay taxes on your social security Walter? Me to.

    • Ms. Minter Will continue the legacy of slowly killing the goose that laid the golden egg in Vermont. Every economic indicator says Vermont is in a downward spiral.
      Mentors policies merely extort more money from the productive and transfer it to the unproductive.

      • Walter Carpenter

        “Every economic indicator says Vermont is in a downward spiral.”

        Is Vermont having the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the nation an indicator of a “downward spiral?” Is a 3.2% unemployment rate an indicator of a “downward spiral?” Are the “help wanted” signs I see all over the place an indicator of an economy headed for the bottom, like we were under the Douglas regime in 2007-2008.


  • scott jennings

    “her comments sometimes becoming redundant because of the amount of airtime she was expected to fill during the hourlong broadcast”. Yup, all she has are DNC talking points because she is an out of state carpet-bagger without a real plan to help hard working Vermonters. We’ll just market advertise our way out of this mess to create jobs? Really? Does anyone think working for a “non profit” ($$$ for salaries paid for by mostly out of state interests) and then working in state government is qualification for governor? Vermonters deserve a whole lot better.

  • robert bristow-johnson

    Being the first gubernatorial candidate declining to participate in this recurring debate does not reflect well on you, Phil.

    And your lame-ass justification (that they must include an inconsequential candidate) does not cut the mustard. It is not credible.

    Before today I hadn’t had a single negative thing to say about the GOP candidate for guv. In fact I commended Phil Scott for refusing to endorse or ally with the GOP candidate for prez (a deplorable alleged human being whose name shall not be spoken). But refusing a scheduled debate for the non-credible stated reason just cannot reflect well on the candidate.

    I am disappointed in Phil Scott.

    • Andi Rosin

      I agree. The perception is that he is afraid to have a one on one debate with Minter. He has never demanded a third party in previous debates over the years. It seems like this was just an excuse to avoid a one on one with Minter.

      Like you, I also have commended him on his refusal to endorse Trump.

      But the fact is, either Minter or Scott will be our next governor, not Bill, “Spaceman” Lee.
      The voters deserve to hear them compare and contrast their agendas at the same venue.

  • As a new observer to “#vtpoli” for you folks on Twitter, I’ve discovered that Vermont politics include many stunts during the election cycle where organizations and now radio hosts participate in promoting these media stunts. That’s what happened earlier this year with the Rights & Democracy group series of debates where they on at least one occasion created this nasty “Where Is Phil campaign” on Twitter which was almost as remedial as Ms. Minter and Mike Sullivan gesturing to an empty chair. Let’s focus on the real issue: All registered candidates who are verified by the Secretary of State’s Office should get equal access to media just as any other candidate and therefore, the media are the ones who have error-ed in this dust up. Why should just the two major parties get exposure when often our 3rd party candidates have broad support?

    • Remember that the Democratic Party in Vermont has to fear the re-emergence of the Progressive Party. The Republicans in Vermont don’t have that same specter. It is in the Republicans’ interest that 3rd parties be given access.

      • Robert Joseph

        Actually, it’s all Vermont non-Dem party line voters interest that 3rd party candidates be given access.

      • robert bristow-johnson

        Skyler! Come on!

        Don’t you remember two years ago November? Here was the specter the Republicans in Vermont had to witness:

        Shumlin 89,509
        Milne 87,075
        Feliciano 8,428

        If the Libertarian hadn’t run and if his 8428 votes would have broken 3 to 2 in favor of the GOP candidate, there would be someone different sitting in the Guv’s office at this very moment.

        It is, in fact, an undeniable example on how Ranked-Choice Voting can benefit conservative/libertarians in Vermont and not just democrats/progressives.

        I am in favor of letting the media determine their own debate access rules. It can be different for different debates and venues. But a quick sit-down on the radio might not be the place for a 4-candidate free-for-all.

  • TIm Daley

    While WDEV and Mike Smith have the right to set their own rules for a debate, I think it was a mistake for them to exclude Bill Lee and, as a result, turn the debate into a Sue Minter promo event. Clearly Bill Lee has virtually no chance but he is a legitimate candidate and WDEV should have taken a higher road here and included all.

    • L Owen Farnsworth

      Tim I mostly agree with you, but have a somewhat different view. I think Mike Smith is coming across as one whose pride was deeply hurt by Phil Scott’s request that Bill Lee be invited to participate. Minter had yet to even respond to Mike Smith, but he still used his next two shows to lecture his audience about Phil Scott’s “affront”. The empty chair debate was simply adolescent. Mike Smith’s lecture series is a poor replacement of Mark Johnson’s talk show. Without doubt WDEV’s ratings are suffering, and that may be more the motive for the empty chair stunt.

  • Hey Mike Smith of WDEV – a one person forum no matter how righteous is NOT a debate. At least we should be referring it as “The Forum Formally Known As Debate”.

    Bill Lee appears to be and by all accounts of those who know him is a nice guy, intelligent, thoughtful, generous and has good ideas. He is not, however, a serious candidate governor and will come in with one or two percent of the vote at best. Lee himself has not shown any public interest that I’m aware of in actually trying to get elected.

    The most informative gubernatorial debate I’ve ever seen was in Bellows Falls some years ago and consisted of nine (I believe) participants. I’m in favor of all ballot candidates being on the stage, but with a caveat: the candidate must at least take their own candidacy seriously.

    And Phil Scott should not be using Bill Lee as some sort of “I stand with every man” prop.

  • Clyde Cook

    She hasn’t seen people’s property taxes and other taxes remain flat int his past decade. Of course not, the STATE and the LEGISLATURE keep INCREASING SPENDING. Thus, the need for higher taxes. Speaking in generalities, it’s one thing to have growth in State spending that is roughly trending in line with the growth of the economy as a whole, but the appetite for money by the State over the last decade seems to have gone way above that. How can she not figure out that connection? This comment BTW, is NOT a defense of the banks.

    As far as not having the LU candidate, we hear this all the time from the media, third parties never poll high enough to deserve the free media time, yet the public never hears much about them because the media will not give them the time of day. I do understand Mr.Smith’s position though not agreeing with it completely, it’s a circular debate all in all.

  • I believe Minter is the outstanding choice for Vermonts next governor. When a candidate (SCOTT) does not participate in a debate using the excuse that there should be a 3rd party
    taking part it just indicates that he is either unprepared to discuss the issues or knows that he would lose credibility by debating Minter. I think Minter/Zuckerman are agood combination.

  • Chet Greenwood

    My vote goes to the empty chair.
    Minter wants to expand wind power that only helps the out-of-state developers and those politicians who get their campaign contributions. We tax businesses enough and that is why they don’t expand to Vermont or they leave. An increase in bank franchise fees to fund tuition is one example- when they leave who ends up with the tuition costs?
    Any thoughts on reducing spending or streamlining State Government??

  • Obviously this was a liberal set up from the beginning. How does a second rate radio station brand something as a debate before they have excepted invitations from more than one party?
    Rather than a debate, this should’ve been labeled as a link the puff piece for a tax and spend liberal whose policies have been proven wrong over the last 10 years.

  • Kim Fried

    If you want more of the same just vote for Minter. She was probably briefed by her mentor the failed Governor Shumlin. Vermont will not be able to survive much longer with more of the same, we need a real CHANGE and quickly, that’s why Scott needs to be the choice in November.

  • Joie Finley,

    Great last sentence.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    I respect any candidate who refuses to participate in a debate that does not include all candidates. It is not up to the Press or the Media to censor third party candidates. That must be left to the voters.

    This is not about Bill Lee. It is about respect for voters and their right to have as much information as possible.

    Remember when Senator Jeffords refused to participate in a debate that excluded a third party candidate? Many Vermonters still respect him for that decision.

  • Bob Hooper

    Scott seems to be using the Spaceman to avoid debates in front of Vermonters…. Pretty easy to see that Bill is not a true “candidate” so why else would Phil be so insistent?? Could he be fearing that Sue will put him on the spot for past policy positions?? Wait, did he take any past policy positions??? Recycling tires isn’t that controversial and that is all I remember him advocating…

  • When moderators express what the end election results are going to account for in percentage terms I think that’s time to load a favorite CD and turn off the radio…. I’m glad that there are still less partial media formats.

  • “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.”

    This sounds more like an excuse for not showing up.

  • The Empty Chair will cost us hard working Taxpayers far less then the Far Left candidate. Nothing can be as bad as the empty suit we have now.

  • Dan Carver

    The Democrats bill themselves as the “party of inclusion.”
    Yet, during 2016, they allowed Bernie to participate in the primary, but the party leadership had already rigged the results in favor of Clinton.

    In Vermont, the Democrats do not want to include all candidates for Governor to participate in the debate. Makes me wonder if other elements of rigging are going on beyond the view of the public.

  • John Grady

    Republican avoids liberal ambush and avoids getting tag teamed.
    All school spending rubber stamped by voters year after year so evidently Vermont voters are happy with high taxes and they will prove it by electing a NEA sponsored democrat majority in both houses again.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    The best way to improve the ‘democratic’ electoral process would be to include Stein and Johnson in the presidential debates. Trump and Clinton could score some points if they insisted on that. They won’t do it. Neither one of them is interested in promoting democracy. Each of them has their own agenda and it is not working for the little people.

  • In 1994 Middlebury Community TV and WFAD’s Tim Philbin cohosted a live US Senate Candidates debate. The lineup included Jim Jeffords R, Jan Backus D, Independents Gavin Mills and Matthew Mulligan, Liberty Union Jerry Levy, Grassroots Robert Melamede, and Natural Law (or Transcendental Meditation?) Joseph Pardo. Philbin was quite aggressive. At one point he asked those who had never used illegal drugs to raise their hands.

    All the candidates were legally on the ballot and for that reason we felt they had earned their place in the forum. They were civil to each other. No one’s nose got out of joint. It’s easy to see it as a circus, but fringe candidates will often say things that don’t hit the moderator or public’s radar until years later. Mainstream candidates have an opportunity to respond.

  • chris force

    Thank you, Sue.

  • Barry Kade

    If the media shuts out the Spaceman, of course he’ll get no more than 10% of the vote. I will not be voting for Scott, but he has earned some respect.

    • robert bristow-johnson

      before this, he had earned some respect from me, also. (mostly because of his opposition to the top of their ticket.)

      but the lame excuse he makes for declining to debate Sue.

      “cluck, cluck…”