MONTPELIER — The way Gov. Phil Scott sees it, he is “racing the track” and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman just happens to be on it.
Scott, who credits his Thunder Road background for launching a 20-year political career that is as improbable as it is impressive, is aware of his latest rival. But the five-term state senator and two-term lieutenant governor who is now running for what would be his third term as Vermont’s highest elected official, doesn’t mention Zuckerman by name and deftly steers clear of opportunities to criticize him.
That’s just the way Scott rolls.
In racing, in business and in politics.
It’s a strategy that has worked for Scott, who has enjoyed his share of success in all three realms and talks about them almost interchangeably.
“When I’m on the racetrack, I’m racing the racetrack,” he said. “I don’t rough anybody up, I try to do it as clean as possible and try to race the track.”
Scott was reminiscing about Thunder Road, but he could have been talking about the campaign trail because he’s pretty proud of his reputation for being “competitive but clean,” and that doesn’t stop when he steps out of his stock car.
“I’ve never run a negative campaign,” said Scott. “I talk about what I can bring to the table (and) what I can do.”
The high road has been good to Scott, who entered his third gubernatorial race with an unblemished 10-0 record dating back to his election as one of Washington County’s three senators in 2000.
That’s a race you couldn’t have convinced a much younger Scott he ever would have bothered to enter.
“I really didn’t have that much interest in politics,” he said.
Born in a Barre hospital that is now a state office building, Scott, 62, is the product of two Granite City schools that have since been repurposed and one — Spaulding High School — that hasn’t. He’ll tell you he didn’t have politics on his mind when he enrolled in the University of Vermont, or when he student-taught at U-32 Middle and High School in East Montpelier before deciding to shift career paths from teaching technical education to going into business.
“I always liked business,” said the man who as a youth ran a “fairly large-scale lawn-mowing business” while renting a paddle boat he purchased with some of the proceeds to folks on Lake Elmore.
“I was always enterprising,” he said. “I was always trying to do something to keep busy and make some money.”
Instead of teaching, Scott opted to open a motorcycle shop in Morrisville, later got into construction, and in 1986 purchased the family-owned business — DuBois Construction — with his cousin, Don DuBois.
Scott insists running for statewide office wasn’t even in the back of his mind when he hopped into the race for one of Washington County’s three Senate seats 20 years ago.
According to Scott, it was a step up or shut up moment for a frustrated businessman concerned about the ramifications of decisions being made a couple of miles up the road from his Middlesex company.
“I felt like the Legislature was just so out of touch with what businesses go through and their needs,” he recalled. “I finally decided instead of complaining all the time … why don’t I run for office?”
Scott did, becoming only the second Republican besides Bill Doyle — who was first elected to the Senate in 1968 and served without interruption for nearly 50 years — to win in a county that had been otherwise dominated by Democrats for decades.
Scott said his Thunder Road exposure helped with name recognition and his reputation as a racer and a businessman didn’t hurt.
“People knew me,” he said.
That mattered then, and the Republican governor of one of the country’s bluest states concedes it hasn’t hurt since.
Scott is who he was — “a moderate centrist who sees the big picture and really wants to do what’s best” for Vermonters whether they voted for him or not. His priorities are the same as governor as they were as lieutenant governor and state senator: “grow the economy, make Vermont more affordable and protect the most vulnerable.”
“My principles and priorities have remained the same,” said Scott, who laments the increasingly tribal nature of today’s politics.
“We’ve become so polarized in this country it’s hard to get anything done,” he said.
That is more critique than complaint, from a man who nearly pivoted away from politics after 10 years in the state Senate, before being talked into running for lieutenant governor by Sen. Dick Mazza — a close friend and conservative Democrat.
Three terms as lieutenant governor later, Scott weighed walking away again, but lingering concerns about what he perceived as the state’s failure to focus on Vermont’s economy prompted his first gubernatorial bid.
“I decided to step up again,” he said.
Scott sold his shares in the family business after winning the 2016 election and has made running the state his sole focus ever sense.
“I’m proud of my record,” he said.
Scott, who has received high marks for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis in Vermont, said he is eager to pick up where he left off before the pandemic hit.
“I made a pledge to myself that I would leave this position with Vermont being in a better position than when I came into office and we were well on our way to doing that,” he said, noting his administration inherited and promptly retired a deficit and had strung together a series of surpluses without raising taxes or fees while watching the unemployment rate drop like a rock.
The economy was growing, Vermont was becoming more affordable and vulnerable Vermonters were receiving the assistance they needed.
“I feel as though we made gains in every single area,” Scott said.
Then came COVID.
The pandemic has tested Scott’s administration and Vermont’s economy while at the same time highlighting his long-held belief that governing — like business and racing — is a team sport and he has a knack for assembling very good teams.
Scott can’t say enough about his cabinet, which he believes has shined in countless ways when dealing with potentially crippling public health crisis. That has made his role as “the decider” considerably easier.
If there is a silver lining in the COVID cloud, it’s a surge in real estate sales and people moving to Vermont because of how the state has navigated the pandemic. Scott said he wants to make sure as many of them as possible stay keeping the state affordable.
“We don’t need more taxes in this state — we need more taxpayers,” he said.
Scott, who describes himself as “pragmatic, compassionate and realistic,” said he isn’t terribly good at self-promotion.
“I’m a better doer than a talker, but I think people know that I can lead a group, I can put together a team and I’m not afraid to make tough decisions,” he said.
Scott, who plans to resume racing at Thunder Road next summer after taking the season off because of the pandemic this year, is hoping his track record as governor earns him another two year term on Nov. 3.
“We’ll see,” he said.
MONTPELIER — State officials say six more people have tested positive in an outbreak of the novel coronavirus connected to Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier.
Gov. Phil Scott has also signed an executive order telling all indoor ice rinks in the state they cannot accept new reservations for the next two weeks in response to New Hampshire shutting down rinks as consequence of the virus’ spread.
At the governor’s regular Friday news conference, Dr. Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist, said there have been 18 confirmed cases of the virus so far. The outbreak is related to youth and adult hockey leagues, as well as broomball teams, that played at the rink. Kelso said the 18 confirmed cases are all players or close contacts of those players. Twelve of the cases were reported at Tuesday’s news conference.
She said the state Department of Health’s contact tracing team continues to reach out to those who might be affected.
The epidemiologist said there will be a pop-up testing site Saturday at the Barre City Auditorium from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“And we’re recommending that anyone with direct links to a team, their close contacts and people associated with the civic center be tested. Testing is not recommended for the broader Montpelier community in response to this situation,” she said.
Kelso said so far it does not appear the outbreak has spread into the community.
The governor didn’t give any specifics, but he said state officials are considering a number of steps to strengthen guidance around off-the-ice activities and interstate play. State officials believe the virus may have spread during activities such as car pooling or team gatherings, but not during actual play. The governor later announced the outbreak might be connected to outbreaks in New Hampshire.
The governor released a statement Friday saying all indoor ice rinks in Vermont are prohibited from accepting new reservations until Halloween. This is in response to neighboring New Hampshire’s decision to close rinks there after six outbreaks associated with hockey, according to published reports.
Rinks can still operate with their current schedule, according to the release.
Also, two people have tested positive for the virus at a pod at Union Elementary School in Montpelier. Officials have not said whether the two are teachers or students, but the cases are not believed to be connected to the outbreak at the hockey rink. Kelso said the first person with the virus gave it to the second, marking the first time there had been in-school transmission of the virus since schools reopened last month.
She said officials are conducting contact tracing at the school, as well.
“The fact that this was the state’s first in-school transmission doesn’t mean an escalation of the virus. It means that someone that is infectious transmitted it to someone,” she said.
The Vermont Supreme Court ruled Friday that repeatedly honking a vehicle horn while driving by a residence is not stalking.
The decision threw out a relief from abuse order issued earlier this year in Bennington family court. The defendant had been involved in a long-running dispute with his sister, according to court records, during which “defendant, by his own admission, drove by plaintiff’s house and honked, in short beeps, to show his annoyance at plaintiff’s actions.”
This happened more than 10 times before the plaintiff sought the order, according to the decision, which was initially granted on the basis that the defendant’s actions constituted stalking. The defendant appealed, arguing that the legal definition of stalking was “acts ... in which a person follows, monitors, surveils, threatens or makes threats.”
While the lower court had found that the trips past the house constituted surveillance because it was “something in which a person makes clear, to the other person, that I’ve just been by your place . . . and possibly seen you.” The Supreme Court disagreed, noting that the lower court found that the defendant did not intentionally drive past the plaintiff’s house and did not necessarily know whether the plaintiff was home.
“The plain meaning of surveillance requires, at a minimum, the intent to closely watch or carefully observe a person or place,” the decision reads. “None of the trial court’s findings indicate that defendant intended to, or in fact did, closely watch or carefully observe plaintiff when he drove by her home and honked his horn. The trial court found that defendant did not intentionally drive past plaintiff’s home and did not necessarily know whether plaintiff was home when he drove by and honked. From these findings, there is no evidence that defendant was closely watching or carefully observing plaintiff.”
Rep. William Notte, R-Rutland, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the Legislature has been working to tighten up the statute governing relief from abuse orders, having just closed a loophole in which emergency orders expire at the time the hearings on them are scheduled and new orders don’t take effect until served on defendants.
“We had people who would blow off the court hearing, the abuse prevention order went away, and then they would avoid police so the new order wouldn’t be served on them,” Notte said.
Notte said the committee’s work thus far had focused on the law as it applies to romantic partners, but he thought family situations merited attention and there needed to be a recognition of the mental toll the sort of harassment described in the Supreme Court case can cause.
“Someone can commit very little of their physical time to harassment and keep someone in a state of mental panic 24 hours a day,” he said.
MONTPELIER — Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman knows what losing is like. He just hasn’t made a habit of it, and he doesn’t plan to start now.
So says the farmer with the ponytail and the progressive policies that were seeded by a much-younger Bernie Sanders, back in the day when Sanders was still serving as Vermont’s lone representative and Zuckerman was a student at the University of Vermont.
That’s the last time Zuckerman lost — dropping his first-ever political contest by a scant 59 votes in a 1994 race for one of Burlington’s legislative seats.
Zuckerman, 49, won the same race two years later and hasn’t lost since. Now the eight-term lawmaker, two-term senator and sitting lieutenant governor is an Election Day away from shortening his already prestigious title and padding his political résumé by becoming Vermont’s highest elected official.
In order to do that, Zuckerman will have to knock off Gov. Phil Scott, who he concedes has thus far done an admirable job helping Vermont navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
That isn’t an endorsement. It’s simply an acknowledgment of reality, but not one Zuckerman views as fatal to his bid to replace Scott and become Vermont’s next governor.
Zuckerman gives credit where credit is due, but that comes with a caveat, because the man who recently squeezed a flu shot in between two interviews, didn’t pass up the chance to lob a big “but” at his latest political rival.
“(Scott) also vetoed critical pieces of legislation that would have set Vermonters up to be better prepared for a normal economic downturn, or certainly this kind of crisis,” Zuckerman said. “He vetoed the minimum wage twice (and) he vetoed paid family and medical leave.”
That’s ground Zuckerman is comfortable fighting on because the Sanders’ disciple has been doing so successfully — often exceeding his own expectations — for more than 25 years.
Zuckerman credits a Sanders’ speech for lighting the political fire in his belly.
“(Sanders) was incredibly inspirational to me as a political figure who didn’t take corporate donations and stood up for and fought for real issues affecting everyday people,” he said. “He didn’t seem like a normal politician.”
Neither does the organic farmer who was elected to the Legislature barely a year after collecting his college diploma and once viewed statewide office as out of reach only to prove himself wrong when he was elected lieutenant governor in 2016 and reelected two years later.
“All statewide offices seemed like a long shot to me, as someone who was so outspoken on issues,” he said. “I just wasn’t sure that statewide would be an option.”
Then again, Zuckerman said, he once thought the same thing about state Senate. He was first elected as one of Chittenden County’s six senators in 2012 and re-elected two years later before stepping down to run for lieutenant governor in 2016.
Zuckerman said the populist ideals that sparked his first failed campaign have fueled the successful ones that followed.
“I saw that everyday people could run and serve and work to make change, which was badly needed then and we still need now with respect to many of the issues I’ve talked about and fought for,” he said.
That list is long and ranges from wages, workers’ rights and social justice issues to health care, affordable housing and climate change.
On the latter issue, Zuckerman argues Scott failed generations of Vermonters by recently vetoing the Global Warming Solutions Act.
“(Scott) has vetoed the climate crisis legislation of our day,” Zuckerman said, citing it as an example of Scott’s failure to think beyond COVID.
Zuckerman said the climate crisis can’t be ignored, social justice and Black Lives Matter conversations aren’t going away and the economic struggles of working Vermonters need to be addressed.
“We really are at a tipping point,” the Progressive-Democrat said “Are we going to build forward and include everyone in an economic and climate recovery or are we going to sort of stay with the status quo, which wasn’t addressing many of those issues before the COVID crisis? That’s the decision we all need to make.”
If elected, Zuckerman said he would work to rebuild Vermont’s economy with “a vision for jobs and the environment.”
Born and raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, Zuckerman is the son of a surgeon who died when he was 13. Growing up he split his time between the Boston area and “extreme rural Virginia,” coming to Vermont in 1989 to attend UVM.
He loved the school and the state, but said he took a year off, returning to UVM in January 1992 after working in a factory, on his mother’s Virginia farm and spending 5½ months hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Sanders, who was mayor of Burlington when Zuckerman enrolled at UVM, had been elected to Congress when he returned from his brief break. That’s when Zuckerman heard him speak and decided to run for office.
Despite Sanders’ endorsement, Zuckerman came up just short in 1994.
However, after graduating from UVM in 1995, he won a seat in the Legislature in 1996 and three years later founded Full Moon Farm on rented land in Burlington’s Intervale.
“I’ve been working on issues, traveling the state and talking to people and organizing, as well as growing my farm ever since,” he said.
Zuckerman and his wife, Rachel Nevitt, purchased 155 acres of farmland in Hinesburg in 2008 and transplanted and expanded their organic farm.
Zuckerman describes himself as “hardworking, reflective, interested, persistent and caring,” and says those attributes have helped him serve his constituents well over the years.
In terms of his public service, Zuckerman said he is proud of his long-standing advocacy to increase Vermont’s minimum wage, his early support for single-payer health care and marriage equality, and his consistent position on a broad range of social justice issues and his unflinching stance on the need to address climate change.
“I do pinch myself sometimes for the different issues that I’ve stuck my neck out for,” he said, adding: “I have a very strong proven track record of proposing … and executing ideas that are forward-thinking.”
While Zuckerman describes Scott as a “decent person,” he openly questions the sitting governor’s commitment to everything from public education to the environment.
“(Scott) is in a steady state, but he’s not building for the future,” Zuckerman said. “We have to both get through this (COVID) moment and build for the future. It’s not enough to just get through.”
The Rutland County State’s Attorney informed the Rutland City Police Department in August that her office would no longer prosecute cases sent by Detective Emilio Rosario after a hearing over the summer in an attempted murder case that led to charges being dismissed on Friday.
Javon E. Wright, 35, of Poultney, was arraigned in Rutland criminal court in August 2019 on one felony count each of attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault with a weapon.
According to police, Wright stabbed another man twice in July 2019 at a Pine Street home in Rutland.
The man said he didn’t know the person who stabbed him, but a woman interviewed by police, who said she had seen the stabbing, said she knew the man who was stabbed, and he had “ripped off” $900 in crack cocaine from Wright. The woman said she knew Wright and said people called him “B.”
During the summer, however, there were two hearings in Rutland criminal court based on a filing by Wright’s attorney, Robert Sussman, asking that evidence seized by police during the investigation be suppressed.
In an order dated Oct. 5, Judge John Pacht granted the request to suppress evidence.
The affidavit in the Wright case said police had been waiting for Wright at a substance abuse facility and when he arrived in his Dodge Charger with Johanna Dorsey and the 4-year-old child of Wright and Dorsey, police drew their weapons and arrested him.
In his order, Pacht called the testimony about what happened after Wright’s arrest a “little difficult to follow” but said Rosario had told other police officers at the scene that Dorsey had given consent to search the car. Pacht found Rosario had not established that Dorsey, who was not an owner of the Charger, had the authority to give consent.
Pacht also questioned whether Dorsey, who police said was scared after being approached by officers with guns drawn and pointed at the car in which she and her daughter were sitting, was able to grant consent under the circumstances.
Police had three cellphones in evidence they said were taken from Wright. Rosario said he didn’t remember seizing cellphones, but said he found that he had logged the phones into evidence. Photos taken at the scene showed that one of the phones, which was the only one relevant to the state’s case, was seized from the Charger and not Wright’s person.
During the suppression hearings. Rosario testified about two other cases in which his evidence had been questioned.
In a 2018 case, he altered a witness’ statement based on a follow-up interview he had done but did not note that he was altering the statement with new information that had come from a separate interview.
A search warrant for a truck in a 2019 case was obtained by a request from Rosario that omitted the fact that the truck had left police custody, meaning that police could not establish a chain of custody for evidence found.
“As is the case here (the Wright case), these incidents reflect circumstances in which Detective Rosario swore to information that was either misleading, incomplete and/or inaccurate and this leads the court to question the detective’s commitment to the care needed when swearing or affirming to tell the truth,” Pacht wrote.
In her letter to Rutland City Police Chief Brian Kilcullen, Rose Kennedy, the Rutland County State’s Attorney called the “erroneous statement” about seizing the phone from Wright, instead of from the car, which was evidence Sussman was asking to suppress at the time, a “staggering dereliction of duty when evaluating the collection of evidence from an attempted murder case.”
Kennedy said she had considered other measures, including a proposal from Rosario’s lawyer that he audio-record his investigations and work with a supervisor on his before submitting evidence to Kennedy’s office.
“These proposals and any remedy short of the non-prosecution of Detective Rosario’s cases fails to honor my obligation to protect our community with integrity and honesty. It also fails to recognize the importance that credibility plays in the criminal justice system and how even unintentional misstatements can erode public confidence in the police,” Kennedy wrote.
Kilcullen said Rosario was working for the department in a non-sworn capacity.
“With that letter, we have to evaluate whether or not Detective Rosario can continue to work in a sworn capacity for the Rutland City Police Department,” he said.
Rosario joined the department in August 2013 and became a detective in 2019.
Kilcullen said he hoped there would be some way to learn from the experience.
“We learn from our mistakes and these were just that: Mistakes. There was no, in any of these cases, there was no reckless disregard for the truth but certainly there’s some areas we could improve on. That’s what we discussed internally,” he said.
On Friday, Kennedy said she believed she had no choice other than to dismiss the charges against Wright after the judge suppressed the evidence.
Kennedy said both of the other cases have mostly resolved although one of the cases ended with a hung jury on one of the two charges. Kennedy said she and the prosecutor, Daron Raleigh, a deputy state’s attorney, are looking at whether to retry the case but Kennedy said she thinks that prosecution would rely more on the alleged victim’s decision on testifying rather than Rosario.
Kennedy said the letter to the Rutland City Police Department was a big step, but she said her obligation is to the victim’s of crimes. She said she didn’t want a victim to feel they had been denied justice because of questions over an officer’s credibility.
The prosecutors in Kennedy’s office are looking at pending cases in which Rosario was the investigating officer to see if there could be issues raised based on the Wright case and Pacht’s order questioning the detective’s credibility.
Kilcullen said he would notify Rosario that the Rutland Herald would be seeking comment, but there was no communication from Rosario by press time.