Gov. Phil Scott and Republican gubernatorial challenger Keith Stern debated guns, immigration, the economy and marijuana legalization Wednesday.
Responding to questions from the public on CCTV, both men expressed their intent to prevent tax increases in Vermont. Scott claimed his hard-line approach to new taxes is already benefiting the state.
“We proved that by not raising taxes and fees, we still grew the economy, grew the revenues organically, which is so important to our state,” Scott said. “We have to do it by economic growth, and that’s the way we fight our way out of this.”
Stern echoed Scott’s thoughts on the importance of lower taxes, saying “We’re too high on income tax, property tax, sales tax we can do so much better just by reducing the waste in government.”
The two were also asked how they plan to work across party lines. Democrats currently hold the majority in both the Vermont Senate and House.
Scott said he found it to be a different dynamic working with Democrats rather than his previous role as a state senator, but said that there is room for bipartisanship in Vermont.
Stern said he can work across party lines when people are willing to be reasonable. But, he added, if Democrats stood firm against his policies, he would “go to the public and say ‘get me the right people,” suggesting that Vermont voters would side with him in the dispute.
On the issue of marijuana legalization, both expressed skepticism of a tax-regulated system.
“I believe we need to do more work in terms of addressing impairment on our highways,” Scott said. “We also need more education, we need to prepare ourselves and educate our youth on the adverse effects of any substance.”
Stern pointed to Colorado, saynig “the governor there even said they might have to reconsider having it legal, so there’s a lot to consider.”
Stern also said that any bill regarding a tax-regulated system would have to include a bill that “cracks down on opioid use.”
One of the biggest issues of the evening was gun control. Stern was asked whether he would support any legislation on gun restriction, and he took a long pause before answering.
“That’s a good question. I would consult the experts on it,” Stern said. “The gun owner’s groups, because they’re a lot more informed than I am.”
Stern’s strategy of going directly to gun owners stands in stark contrast to Scott. He signed legislation that added several restrictions to state law, including giving authorities more power to remove guns from dangerous individuals.
“Leadership and being governor isn’t about watching the polls and taking action based on what the polls would be,” Scott said. “That was around the time of Parkland, where 17 individuals lost their lives, and we had an eerily similar situation here in Fair Haven. It wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of which day it was going to happen.”
The debate was the first time Scott has gone toe-to-toe with a challenger since announcing he would seek re-election. The Vermont primary takes place August 14.