Eric Davis: Is Turner a real threat to Zuckerman?
The most competitive statewide election in Vermont this year is for lieutenant governor, between Progressive-Democratic incumbent David Zuckerman and Republican challenger Don Turner.
Vermont is one of 18 states where the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately. The responsibilities of Vermont’s lieutenant governor are primarily legislative — to serve as the presiding officer of the Senate. The lieutenant governor has no executive or administrative duties. The position is part-time, and previous occupants have held another job while serving as lieutenant governor — for example, Howard Dean as a physician and Brian Dubie as an airline pilot.
Zuckerman, an organic farmer from Hinesburg, has been a fixture at the State House for many years. He graduated from UVM in 1995, and was first elected to the Vermont House the following year, representing a Burlington district. After serving in the House from 1997 through 2011, he was elected to the Senate for the Chittenden district in 2012, and held that seat for four years before being elected lieutenant governor.
Turner is also a long-time legislator, having represented Milton in the House since 2006. For the past six years, Turner has served as House Minority Leader. A long-time member of the Milton Fire Department, he has been active in state and national firefighters’ associations. He is currently the town manager in Milton.
There are marked ideological differences between Zuckerman and Turner. Zuckerman would like all Vermonters to pay for education costs on the basis of income, rather than property. Turner says this would mean substantial tax increases on those Vermont households with incomes over $300,000, which would result in those people leaving the state. Zuckerman would like to move toward a Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care system as soon as possible. Turner strongly opposes this approach.
Zuckerman wants to see the Vermont minimum wage raised to $15 over the next few years, and a paid family leave program funded by a payroll tax. Turner led the opposition in the Legislature to these proposals, and ensured that Governor Scott’s vetoes of them were sustained. Zuckerman wants to see the sale of cannabis legalized in Vermont, with the state regulating and taxing the product. Turner opposes any changes in the state’s marijuana laws, and did his best to delay passage of the current legislation permitting the private possession and use of small amounts of cannabis.
The two candidates are following different approaches to funding their campaigns. Zuckerman’s campaign relies primarily on individual donations from Vermonters, most in the amount of $200 or less. Turner’s campaign depends to a much greater extent on donations of $1,000 and up, some from Vermont, and some from out-of-state sources. Turner has also received substantial support from some out-of-state PACs, such as the National Association of Realtors, which paid for more than $50,000 worth of online advertising on his behalf.
Zuckerman is better-known than Turner, and has the advantages of incumbency. In his primary and general election campaigns in 2016, he demonstrated a breadth of geographical support rare for any candidate in Vermont other than Bernie Sanders, doing well in both urban and suburban Chittenden County and in rural areas such as the Northeast Kingdom.
Turner may end up spending a bit more than Zuckerman, which will help him narrow the name recognition difference between himself and Zuckerman. Some parts of the Vermont Republican organization also appear to be more enthusiastic about Turner than about Governor Scott. This is probably due to Turner’s being more conservative than Scott. Zuckerman will benefit from Bernie Sanders’ support and coattails.
Zuckerman’s incumbency, long experience, and Democratic affiliation should be enough to give him a second term as lieutenant governor. However, an upset victory for Turner in a low-turnout election would not be out of the question.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.
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