Editor’s note: A video of the forum is posted here.
The three major party candidates for governor sparred over issues of particular concern to women during a debate Thursday that featured the first appearance by Liberty Union candidate Bill “Spaceman” Lee.
The debate, hosted by the Vermont Commission on Women, was held in the Vermont House chamber and well attended for an afternoon event. VTDigger’s Anne Galloway peppered the candidates with questions on topics from equal pay to sex trafficking.
Democrat Sue Minter and Republican Phil Scott each turned their fire on the other, while Lee often spoke in proverbs that had little do with women’s issues.
“Money is like manure. It’s only good when they spread it around,” Lee said at one point, noting he was a “Zen master” influenced by Eugene Debs, Bernie Sanders and Plato.
“Laws are like spiderwebs. They entrap the weak and are broken by the strong, so you have to have the weakest get the most protection,” the former Red Sox pitcher later added.
Once on topic, Lee promised, “Women are going to be fine in my utopian environment.”
In between Lee’s proclamations, Minter aggressively challenged Scott on various issues, often touching on personal anecdotes to illustrate problems women face.
While advocating for universal paid family and medical leave, Minter recalled her own trepidation around informing a past employer that she was pregnant.
“Vermonters should not have to choose between their work, their child or people they love and need,” she said. “When I was pregnant with my first child — Ariel — I was in a new job. I was afraid to tell them about my pregnancy and I had no security of whether I would have a job to get back.”
The former transportation secretary pointed out that Scott had not supported the paid sick leave bill that passed the Legislature last session, and that his recently unveiled 50-page economic plan did not address issues women face at work.
“I want to make it easier for families to live here, to have time with their babies, to allow them to have time with their loved ones,” Minter promised. “As governor I will work to make this happen.”
In turn, Scott promised to advocate for women, adding that his role models include his mother and two daughters.
While Scott has received support from the Vermont Right to Life Committee, he said that he is pro-choice and reiterated his support for Planned Parenthood.
The lieutenant governor said he supported equal pay for women and believed in a world where women are able to take time to care for their families without suffering in the workplace. But he added that “our economy needs every worker we can in order to grow.”
He said that he did not support passage of more paid leave legislation at the moment, explaining that businesses needed time to work through the recent paid sick leave mandate.
“Businesses do need time to adjust and absorb these costs,” Scott said. “So I would not support an expansion of these mandates so soon.”
Scott also said he believed in the idea of early education, but said taxes should not be increased to make these services more readily available. Like Minter, Scott said he supported more educational opportunities for women, including in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Minter said these opportunities for women would be made available through her plan to offer two years of free tuition to Vermonters at either the Community College of Vermont or Vermont Technical College.
Scott, on the other hand, pointed to the recent Picus Report on Vermont’s educational spending, which showed more than $150 million in potential savings. Scott said that part of these savings could be directed toward educational opportunities for women.
Both Minter and Scott stressed the need to punish human sex traffickers and rid the state of domestic violence. While Scott has opposed any new restrictions on firearms, Minter said that a key to protecting women in Vermont was to institute stricter background checks.
“Right now, a majority of homicides in Vermont are domestic violence-related, and most of them are with a gun,” Minter said. “And in states where we have background checks on all handguns, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partner.”