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A wide-open race for lieutenant governor

Multiple candidates will face off in Aug. 11 primary election

BRATTLEBORO—When current Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman decided to not seek another term and instead run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, it set in motion a free-for-all in both parties to fill his seat.

On the Democratic side, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, Assistant Attorney General Molly Gray, Chittenden County Sen. Debbie Ingram, and Newfane activist Brenda Siegel are all on the Aug. 11 primary ballot.

On their ballot, Republican voters will choose between Dana Colson Jr. of Sharon, Meg Hansen of Manchester, Jim Hogue of Calais, Scott Milne of Pomfret, and Scott Tucker of Barre.

Cris Ericson is running on the Progressive ticket for lieutenant governor. She is also running as a Progressive for governor, attorney general, state auditor, secretary of state, state treasurer, and U.S. Congress.

The Democratic candidates

Of the four Democrats on the ballot, three have run for elective office, and one is making her second try at a statewide office.

Tim Ashe, 43, was the first to declare he was running for lieutenant governor, but among the last to start active campaigning as he and Ingram had to stay in Montpelier to help formulate the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“COVID-19 has made all the state’s long-term problems worse,” Ashe told The Commons. He called those four hectic months in the State House working with Gov. Phil Scott and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson “the most grueling, but most rewarding, months of my elected career.”

Ashe won his first election as a Progressive in 2004 to the Burlington City Council, where he served until 2007. He won his first Senate race in 2008 and worked his way up the leadership ladder, becoming president pro tem in 2017. He was unsuccessful in his bid to become mayor of Burlington in 2011, losing in a runoff to current mayor Miro Weinberger.

He said that as lieutenant governor he would hope “to close the inequality gap between the two Vermonts: the one where people can enjoy the perks of living here, and the one where people are struggling to get by.”

While the only official responsibilities of the lieutenant governor are to preside over the Senate and be ready to serve if the governor is incapacitated or dies in office, Ashe said he sees the job as one where “you’re liberated from parochial interests and can focus on the issues” and thus where one can serve as “the fix-it person for people around the state.”

Molly Gray, 36, also got her campaign started early. She has been the top fundraiser in the race and has the backing of the Democratic establishment, including endorsements from former Govs. Madeleine Kunin and Peter Shumlin, and former Lt. Gov. Doug Racine.

A graduate of the University of Vermont, Vermont Law School, and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, in Geneva, Switzerland, Gray has served as an intern for Congressman Peter Welch and worked in human rights with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Code of Conduct Association.

She clerked for Judge Peter Hall in U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals prior to her current job in the state AG’s office.

But Gray is also quick to emphasize her Vermont roots — both as a fourth-generation Vermonter growing up her family’s dairy and vegetable farm in Newbury, as well as a daughter of parents from Windham County.

“What we decide to do now on issues like child care and paid family leave, education, broadband expansion, workforce development, agriculture, or climate change matters,” Gray told The Commons. “It will affect us for years to come, so we have to get it right.”

“We can have the same people at the table taking incremental steps, or we can elect leaders who will collaborate with our communities and statewide officials to address the challenges we face,” she continued.

• A native of Savannah, Ga., Debbie Ingram, 58, lives in Williston and is an ordained minster in the United Church of Christ and executive director of Vermont Interfaith Action, a nonprofit coalition of congregations that advocate for social justice.

She moved to Vermont in 2000 and has served two terms in the Vermont Senate, winning election in 2016 and 2018.

Ingram has served on the Education Committee and the Health and Welfare Committee. Her Senate record shows support for many progressive issues, from expanding child care to creating a state racial equity panel.

On her website, ingramvt.com, she said that, as lieutenant governor, she would “bring people together, rebuild a strong economy, and advance social justice.”

Brenda Siegel, 43, is the only one of the four Democratic candidates who has run for statewide office. In 2018, she ran for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, and finished her first run for public office with 21 percent of the vote in the three-way primary.

She has since used her newfound statewide name recognition to become a vocal advocate on behalf of those affected by the opioid epidemic as well as lending support to a host of other issues of social, economic, and racial justice in Vermont.

“We live in an empty shell of a country,” Siegel told The Commons. “We need to rebuild the foundation. There is such an opportunity for change right now and, like the 1930s, people want to see change. If we get trapped in the same way of thinking, we will end up in the same place we’ve been.”

Siegel said the COVID-19 pandemic shows the intersectionality of many issues such as access to health care, racial justice, and the pain felt by people trapped in a low-wage, low-benefit economy.

“It’s very hard to succeed in Vermont,” she said. “People are struggling.”

The Republican candidates

Scott Milne, 61, is the best known of the Republican lieutenant governor candidates — as much for his family’s business, Milne Travel, as for his unsuccessful run against U.S. Sen. Pat Leahy in 2016 and for coming within 2,434 votes of defeating Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2014.

Milne was a late entry into the Republican race, announcing his candidacy just hours before the May 28 filing deadline. But he has the support of Gov. Phil Scott and nearly 40 state lawmakers.

He touts his experience as a successful business owner and hopes to be able to work alongside Scott in helping to guide Vermont through its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic if they both win their respective elections.

“I believe Phil’s going to be re-elected. And that he deserves an ally and clearly not an adversary in the lieutenant governor’s office,” Milne recently told VTDigger.org.

Meg Hansen, 34, a communications consultant making her first run for state office, says she’s running on a “pro-prosperity, pro-freedom” platform, representing the many Vermonters who can afford to build their lives and businesses here.

Hansen, who has a master’s degree from Dartmouth College, was the executive director of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, a policy group that supports “free market reforms” and opposes single-payer health care.

At her website, hansenforvermont.com, she says that “those in power should cut our punishing tax burden, foster a diverse pro-business climate, fulfill the state’s pension debt obligations, maximize access to innovative and affordable health care and education, improve the quality of life by enabling greater productivity and cost-efficiency, and maintain transparency and accountability in government.”

Dana Colson Jr., 46, of Sharon, grew up on his family’s dairy farm in northern Vermont. A graduate of Vermont Technical College and Franklin Pierce College, he worked for most of his career in manufacturing, shipping, and international business. In 2014, he founded the Tunbridge-based company North Country Welding Supply.

On his website, colson4ltgov.com, Colson said he was inspired to run after his son Austin went missing in 2018 and was found dead five months later, the victim of an apparent homicide.

“The suspect named in court documents was a convicted felon with a history of violence and drug use. He was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office and plead guilty to a federal charge for possession of a firearm,” he said. “Unfortunately, I learned why Vermont’s criminal justice system needs reforms. The victims should have more rights than the criminals. This and other issues have inspired me to run for lieutenant governor.”

Colson said he would “fight for lower taxes [and] common-sense regulations, not over-regulation.”

Dwayne Tucker, 44, is a civil engineer who specializes in septic system design. He is also running for a state Senate seat in Washington County.

In a recent VPR candidates debate, he said he was more interested in the Senate seat than in the lieutenant governor’s race. Colson unsuccessfully ran for that body in 2018.

He said he believes that Vermont “needs to rebuild from the bottom up, not the ineffective top-down approach that we have seen for quite some time.”

On his Facebook page (facebook.com/dwaynetuckerforvtsenate), Tucker said that the failure of Vermont’s leaders “to address the lack of economic growth, the opiate crisis, affordability, the soaring expense of healthcare coverage, and the need for education and tax reform is irresponsible in our state. Vermont deserves more, and the people deserve better.”

Jim Hogue, of Calais, is an actor and a former high school teacher. He told VTDigger.org that his main motivation for running was “to expose the fallacies of the current protocols of COVID-19, and to applaud truth and free speech wherever we can find it.”

Hogue has also been a supporter of the Vermont secessionist movement.

Progressive

• Cris Ericson, 68, of Chester, has run for governor in every biennial race since 2002 under the backing of various third parties. Starting in 2004, she has appeared on the ballot for U.S. senator or U.S. representative in every major election.

“Good candidates are not defeated because they lose in the past, they just run again!” she wrote in a statement on iBrattleboro. “We are like sports teams that lose and lose and never give up and then surprise, surprise, we will win, hopefully in 2020!”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #572 (Wednesday, July 29, 2020). This story appeared on page A1.

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