Governor hopefuls debate labor, union issues
By LOUIS PORTER Vermont Press Bureau | April 02,2010
BARRE — At one of the liveliest events in the campaign for the governorship so far, the five Democratic candidates jostled and sparred as they answered questions on labor and union issues Thursday evening.
The union-organized event — appropriately held in the city's Old Labor Hall — was different from many of the forums held so far. For one thing, it was a live televised debate, with candidates answering questions by former television anchorman Marselis Parsons that, in some cases, had the potential to pit the interests of taxpayers and union members in the audience.
All five Democrats said they would like to reduce the number of Vermont offenders in out-of-state prisons. The cost of housing those offenders in Vermont prisons could be offset by releasing nonviolent offenders and increasing drug, alcohol and other programs for current and former offenders, they said.
One audience member asked the candidates how they would give teachers and state workers "the respect we have earned" instead of blaming them for the state's fiscal problems.
"We can all promise respect," State Sen. Doug Racine said. "I have been demonstrating it."
"We do not have too many teachers," Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz said. "We do have a problem with education costs. It is a demographic problem."
In response to a question from John Reese, a state worker and Barre resident, all five candidates said there should be more state employees than there are now — not fewer.
"I see it every day in Appropriations. We are too small," said State Sen. Susan Bartlett, who heads the Senate budget committee. "We absolutely need to hire more state workers."
"We have cut state government to the bone. We aren't delivering the services," said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin. "We will not cut anymore in the Shumlin administration. No more layoffs."
Candidates for a variety of state offices, union workers and the staff members of the state's labor unions, which organized the debate, filled the room.
The only one of the six candidates for governor who was not at the debate was Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the sole Republican who is running.
Dubie has not participated in any of the candidate events so far, although he will be at a student forum in Barre Town later in the month.
"I look forward to debates. I enjoy debates," Dubie said. But Thursday's event — although he was invited by the organizers — was really for Democrats, Dubie said. "It's a primary. For me to insert myself into a primary, even some Democrats might be offended by that," he said. "I think I am the only candidate who is a member of a labor union so it is not that I don't want to talk about the issues."
But a couple of the Democrats took shots at Dubie for that decision.
"I can't imagine in my wildest dreams why Brian Dubie thinks he should get to be governor of the state of Vermont if he won't talk to Vermonters about why he should get the job," Shumlin said.
And several times the Democratic candidates tried to make the connection between Gov. James Douglas and Dubie, who has in the past referred to himself as the governor's co-pilot.
"I don't believe state workers have been treated well by this administration," Bartlett said when asked how she would change the Douglas administration's dealings with the state work force. "My primary goal would be no more reduction in the state work force."
"They are now demoralized and they have been undermined," said Shumlin, who added that in his administration there would be "no layoffs and no reductions" in pay for state workers.
Markowitz said, referring to her staff in the Secretary of State's Office: "I have 68 employees. I am going to miss them tremendously when I leave."
Dunne called the recent spending choices in Montpelier "voodoo budgeting" and "drive-by budgeting." Even as state employees have been cut "the number of contractors have increased, the number of temp workers have gone up and the pay for temps has increased," he said.