David Zuckerman
David Zuckerman on Aug. 27, 2020. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Former Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat, would like his old job back. He announced his bid for the lieutenant governorship on Monday.

With U.S. Sen Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, set to retire, tectonic shifts are afoot in Vermont’s political landscape as state-level politicians throw themselves into the first open congressional races in 16 years.

A familiar face, Zuckerman said he could offer “some continuity and experience” during a “perilous moment in our democracy.” 

He said he also hopes to spotlight key issues from the LG’s bully pulpit — chief among them the rural economy. Vermont may now finally have the federal cash it needs to expand access to broadband, he said, but it needs to do so the right way.

“We don’t (want to) create other challenges like housing affordability, which has already become a challenge with climate and pandemic refugees from southern urban areas,” he said.

He joins an increasingly crowded race. Several of the declared candidates in the Democratic primary are well known in Montpelier. They include former Danville Rep. Kitty Toll, who chaired the budget-writing House Committee on Appropriations, and Woodstock centrist Rep. Charlie Kimbell. Political newcomer Patricia Preston, the executive director of the Vermont Council on World Affairs, is also running in the primary.

But Zuckerman will enjoy the advantage of being the only declared candidate thus far to have run — and won — statewide. He also represented Vermont’s most populous region, Chittenden County, in the state Senate for two terms. And he is often associated with Vermont’s best-known politico: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who has endorsed Zuckerman in many of his previous campaigns.

On the GOP side, longtime state Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, announced his candidacy last month. Gregory Thayer, a conservative activist and former Rutland County Republican Party chair, has also declared his bid.

A Boston native, Zuckerman first came to the Green Mountain State to attend the University of Vermont and has been involved in state politics since the late ’90s. Before joining the Senate, he represented Burlington in the House for seven terms. 

Zuckerman first won the lieutenant governorship in 2016 and left the post after two terms to run for governor. He easily won the 2020 Democratic primary, but was crushed in the general election by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, whose popularity was further buoyed by his early success handling the Covid-19 crisis.

Zuckerman is known for championing marijuana legalization, the state’s GMO-labeling law and a higher minimum wage. With him, Zuckerman says, Vermont will get “a fighter for working people and everyday issues for 20 years with a successful track record.”

“I was the first person that introduced the marriage equality bill,” he said. “I introduced the GMO legislation before anybody else was talking about it. I introduced cannabis reform when others are too afraid to bring it up.”

The lieutenant governor’s job is often seen as a stepping stone to higher office, and Zuckerman said he may indeed jump into another race in the future. But this year, Zuckerman said it’s high time a woman went to D.C., and three high-profile women are already running in the Democratic primary for Vermont’s sole at-large congressional seat.

As for challenging U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who is vying for Leahy’s soon-to-be vacant U.S. Senate seat, Zuckerman said there are “practical realities” to consider.

“Peter Welch has over $2 million dollars in his war chest. Bernie came out for him on day one or day two,” he said. “I think it’d be an extremely difficult race to win.”

VTDigger's political reporter.