Zuckerman Vows To Build Engagement as Vt.’s #2

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Front Page / Sep. 8, 2016 9:22am EDT

By Katie Jickling


David Zuckerman, a Progressive Democrat from Hinesburg, discusses his campaign for Vermont lieutenant governor. (Herald / Tim Calabro) David Zuckerman, a Progressive Democrat from Hinesburg, discusses his campaign for Vermont lieutenant governor. (Herald / Tim Calabro) Sen. Dave Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden) wasn’t altogether surprised when he clinched the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

A Vermont Public Radio poll had come out three weeks before the election and shown Zuckerman and House Speaker Shap were “almost neck and neck” in name recognition.

“I felt pretty good,” Zuckerman said.

In the end, he beat out Smith, a Montpelier stalwart, and fellow- Chittenden County resident Kesha Ram by 6 percent and 27 percent, respectively, in the August 9 primary.

“I felt like my support was probably more enthusiastic,” he said.

The 45-year-old Hinesburg resident runs on the Progressive and Democratic tickets, and was the sole statewide politician to pick up an endorsement from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders before the primary.

Still, he argued, his support goes beyond his Chittenden County die-hards and the Sanderistas. He won over 200 of the 251 Vermont towns, and every county but Smith’s home Lamoille County in the primary.

Instead, Zuckerman attributed the broad-base support to his grassroots work around the state in the last decade: pushing for marriage equality; GMO-labeling; his work with other farmers.

He guessed that he’s traveled around the state more than any other legislator—it paid off in the primaries, he said.

And like Sanders, “people don’t see me as an establishment politician,” which resonates among a discontent electorate.

“The state is really ready for changes in how democracy works,” he said. “Everyday people’s needs are what we really need to start addressing more.”

Statesman and Farmer

Zuckerman grew up outside of Boston, and came to Vermont in 1989 to major in Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont.

He began campaigning for Bernie Sanders as a student and in 1994, ran a failed bid for the state legislature.

He ran again and won in 1996, and has since served 14 years in the House and four years in the Senate (2012-16) before announcing his bid for the state’s number two seat.

Between sessions, Zuckerman farms: He and his wife Rachel Nevitt keep over 50 pigs and chickens and sell vegetables through a CSA and at the Burlington Farmer’s Market.

Now, Zuckerman said, that the schedule is tighter with campaign stops; sometimes, he shows up to sell vegetables in a suit, on the way to events.

Engagement Is Goal

Zuckerman plans to use his post as lieutenant governor to re-engage the citizenry in the democratic process, he said, working from the grassroots up.

He’ll invite the public into the statehouse, “get them into the building, talk about how they can influence their legislators in a substantive way,” he said.

He’s hoping to help remedy the disillusionment surrounding the political system—part of the reason he refused to accept corporate campaign donations, he said.

“I want to add the people’s voice back to what is otherwise a money-driven system, to have a few more opportunities for everyday engagement,” he said.

Part of the job is moderating discussion and building unity on the floor of the senate—allowing minority voices to be heard.

That works in Montpelier, he said; In Vermont, politicians are able “to value the person and what they bring to the table over the party label.”

Even though Democrats hold a strong majority, he pointed out, minority party members are still appointed to chair committees.

Policy

Zuckerman’s platform emphasizes economic development for the state. He’d work for more rapid broadband expansion, he said, and look for locally-specific rural economic development opportunities across the state.

In his farming and economic policy, Zuckerman relates easily to Vermonters across the political spectrum. He pointed out that if elected, he would be the first active farmer elected to the position of lieutenant governor in over 50 years.

“The words ‘efficiency in business,’ you don’t hear out of left-wingers very often, but it’s a reality of my daily life,” he said.

He hopes to lower property tax rates for households earning under $200,000 and look to streamline social services within state government.

He pointed to collaboration between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Agency of Education as an area of overlap.

Zuckerman supports adjusting Act 46, tailoring the law to meet the needs of the districts where it’s not saving costs or allowing for greater efficiencies.

Zuckerman is comfortable listening, and advocating local, rather than broad-based solutions, he said.

In cases like Act 46, he said, “We need to listen to the people who are out there doing this work and not pretend we know the answers ourselves.”

The long-time proponent of cannabis reform will continue to push for legalization of recreational marijuana.

Zuckerman will offer his expertise— over a dozen years of research on the issue, but he may have even less sway on the matter as a lieutenant governor than he did as a senator, he said.

Likely, the proposition will move forward with or without him. “I think that ball is already rolling,” he said.

He also says he’ll work for a $15 minimum wage, though there are still details to work out.

He’d set a target of “four or five years” for implementation.

“Then businesses like mine can factor that in, all those people who are buying can adjust, and when the cost to society is distributed, we’ll all adjust in a timely manner,” he said.

There are details that must be ironed out, but focusing on the barriers ignores the larger question: “Do we all do better together?,” he queried. “When the minimum wage was a real wage in the 60s, those proportions were there.”

Zuckerman argues that his policy proposals are within reach.

Especially in Vermont, he said, politicians are willing to compromise for the common good.

“Once we’re all in office, the common thread of improving lives of Vermonters, is a stronger thread than party lines,” he said.

More Politics

This is the third in a series of interviews of Vermont’s statewide political candidates. For an interview with Republican gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott, visit https://tinyurl.com/philscott

For an interview with Republican candidate for Lt. Governor Randy Brock, visit https://tinyurl.com/randybrock

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