Women’s concerns provide battleground for candidates

The gubernatorial candidates line up for a forum Thursday at the Statehouse. From left, Liberty Union candidate Bill Lee, Democrat Sue Minter and Republican Phil Scott. Photo by Andrew Kutches/VTDigger

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.”

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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]

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  • Candy Moot

    As a woman who’s spent most of my volunteer time over the last 35 years working for groups representing the interests of women and children … including as a volunteer and Board member with Planned Parenthood … I’m grateful we’re way past the time when informed people argue that we should vote for a woman simply because of her gender. I have educated myself about the candidates’ records and where they stand on important issues facing Vermont, and I’ll be voting for Phil Scott. Definitely.

    • Irene Stewart

      I will be voting for Phil Scott also. One reason, Minter has admitted she will be raising taxes on all Vermonters. Raising taxes on all Vermonters will hurt all Vermonters. This will not help one Vermonter. We pay exorbitant taxes in this State, and those must not be increased, and no new tax must be implemented. I cannot believe that Minter supports taxing 160 services in Vermont. Rob Roper listed a few that will have a new sales tax: medical, repairs/installations, snow removal, lawn mowing, housing, real estate, personal care, vehicle repairs, child care, plumbing, heating repairs, haircuts, painting and so many others. 160 of them! Seniors living on a fixed income, no social security raise, will have to go without, if they need any of these services. I cannot envision how anyone in Vermont would support Minter or her promise for higher taxes.

      • Willem Post


        Minter has big plans to further extend and enlarge state government.

        She would be a Shumlin plus, plus.

        We have enough of him, and definitely do not want a repeat performance.

        When Louras, mayor of Rutland, conferred with Shumlin regarding more refugees into Rutland, Shumlin likely told him to go for it, and Louras did……..in secret.

        Anything to get federal subsidies to Vermont, and to have more government involvement/aggrandizement in everything.

    • I agree from the top. I’ve never understood “women’s issues”? Would we have a debate about “men’s issues”? Vermont has a lot of issues that are very serious to us all.
      A good job, lower taxes, good schools, efficient ethical state government would benefit the states greater good than trying to splitter us.

  • Jamie Carter

    ““Right now, a majority of homicides in Vermont are domestic violence-related, and most of them are with a gun,” Minter said.”

    Minter is deceptive and misleading, clearly taking a page out of the bosses playbook.

    While this statement is correct, domestic homicides with a gun average less then 5 per year.

    ““And in states where we have background checks on all handguns, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partner.”

    Luckily in Vermont we have background checks…

    • I thought the number was 38% as reported by VTDigger? And that is a 31% reduction from the year before. I don’t think Minter is misleading, she’s too smart. I believe she is not telling the truth.

  • Mary Reed

    Mr. Lee’s proverbs, contrary to the article’s claims otherwise, appeared quite relevant to the topics at hand. One had to listen and think, however, instead of criticizing without understanding the nexus of the concept to the questions posed. The man is a thoughtful and caring humanist with senses of humor and irony. I’m delighted that Mr. Scott has insisted Mr. Lee be invited to participate in debates, and I’m sorry about the hubris (and disrespect) displayed in the decision to not include Mr. Lee at the Tunbridge event. He is clearly not viewed by some in the media as a viable candidate, but shame on those who take that as license to marginalize him as a person.

  • Mary Alice Bisbee

    While I admire Phil Scott for his honesty, I do not believe that he would serve the best interests of Vermonters. Yes, the economy may be in trouble but the best way to fix it is with new renewable energy jobs. Phil does not seem to see the importance of climate change and the need to adjust our economic priorities to help preserve our planet. I also do not want to see allowing insurance companies to come back into Vermont where they were driven out several years ago, because of our strict rules on providing coverage for ALL. Sue Minter will better represent me and all Vermonters as we move ahead at this critical time.

    • Willem Post


      “Yes, the economy may be in trouble but the best way to fix it is with new renewable energy jobs”

      That would be the best way to further drive Vermont’s economy into the ground.

      Wind and solar systems produce EXPENSIVE energy, the last thing we need in Vermont.

      More of pristine ridge line destruction with 500-ft noise making monsters, and more of fertile meadows covered with panels, a la Shumlin/Minter?

      Vermont’s economy is in near-zero, real-growth as it is.

      Why make it worse with expensive energy?

      Having more, low-cost*, steady, not variable, not intermittent, near-CO2-free, hydro from Hydro-Quebec would be best for Vermont’s economy. GMP refuses to act on it, for business reasons.

      About 6-7 cents/kWh, plus 1.0 c/kWh for transmission, adjusted based on NE wholesale prices, which have been about 5 c/kWh for 5 years

  • Bruce Wilkie

    Minter wants to tax housing-what will that do to low/middle income people who can’t afford housing now?
    Will there be a sales tax on home purchases?
    Will there be a sales tax on dental work?
    Will there be a tax on taxes?
    Then there is the carbon tax.
    Vote Phil Scott or declare bankruptcy-oh yeah she’ll probably tax that too.

    • Willem Post


      More taxes in over-taxed Vermont? She is in left field on that one

      Forbes ranked Vermont the 44th Worst State For Business in 2014
      Vermont: Most Costly State for Manufacturing (2010)
      Vermont: 3rd-highest in Property Taxes (2010)

      During the 2000 – 2015 period, the Vermont government sector employment percent of total jobs grew, whereas the private sector employment percent shrank; a backwards way to go

      Vermont government employment increased much faster than the population, about 13.56/2.7 = 5.02 times faster

      Vermont government employment increased much faster than private sector employment, about 13.56/2.85 = 3.51 times faster

      The Vermont nominal median family income increased 17.46%, significantly less than the 66.49% increase of the Vermont nominal GSP per capita, during 2005 – 2014

      The real (inflation-adjusted) median family income DECREASED 3.11%, significantly less than the 19.72% increase in real GSP per capita, during 2005 – 2014

  • “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.
    The actual quote is:

    “Money is like fertilizer: when it’s hoarded, it stinks. When spread around, stuff grows.”
    John Densmore- Doors drummer:(Bill should have given him credit for the thought:)
    How true – No wonder Phil wants Bill included in all the debates

  • Though I am not currently a Vermont resident, I intend to vote for Bill Lee anyway. His political philosophy nicely transcends politics and gets to the heart of culture and society: inner space.

  • Susan Ritz

    Sorry to hear that Phil Scott still does not understand that paid family leave and paid sick days are the best ways to keep good employees, women and men alike, in the workforce. Scott says “We need every worker we can to make the economy grow.” How true.
    Sue Minter understands that good employees, especially women, leave the work force because they can’t make enough to afford child care and are often penalized for being the primary caretakers of children and the elderly. We need a business community that offers flexibility and security to both men and women to care for their loved ones. Government can lead the way. Sue knows that. How about you, Phil?

    • Todd Morris

      Susan I disagree. Do you or have you ever ran a business and wrote payroll checks? I have. I can say it is difficult to find good employees because in today’s culture the younger generations have been “molded” to believe their individual needs and happiness outweigh the needs of the larger group, be it a team, a school or a business. The result is the younger generations complain about their circumstances more often and on whole have a generally poorer work ethic than the older generation who were brought up to make individual sacrifices and who willingly worked their way up the ladder to higher paying jobs. The problem with paid sick leave is it is so easily abused. Why should I as the business owner suffer the economic impact for this abuse? It is best left up to me as the business owner to make the decisions which I feel are in the best interest of the business long term success.. You are in no position to make those decisions for me. May I make decisions for you?

  • Video of the forum is available for viewing at:


  • Patricia Jedlicka

    I heard Phil Scott, Randy Brock, and other conservative candidates speak (briefly) at a small event in Franklin County last night. I will be voting a straight republican ticket this time around. Many of the comments I have read on this site, and others, really mischaracterize what the conservative candidates stand for (if I believe what was said in front of the group last night). Phil Scott said the VT economy (including balancing the budget and examining every single bill that is proposed for ‘what benefit will it bring to VT and the taxpayer’) is the priority. And to even start pushing back against the entrenched special interests in Montpelier, we need to clean house and get a conservative counterbalance down there. It’s our only hope (my sentiment).

  • Deborah Billado

    Sue wont have to address maternity leave because when Shumlin is done and if she wins
    there will not be any businesses left to take a leave from. Many businesses are fleeing
    the Northeast due to taxes, and utilities. The dems just don’t get it and they continue to
    try to get more out of those who are still here. Many people here are trapped with homes and jobs and the desire to spend out their latter years in this beautiful state they have always
    known as home. There is much resentment toward the status quo political body for creating such a difficult economy. Vermont needs and deserves more balance in Montpelier. I will
    be voting for Phil Scott and hoping that we see more balance in the house and senate.
    Neither party should have a choke hold on the states economy as the dems have had for
    years. Voting has consequences and we are living proof of it under the current administration.