IRASBURG, Vt. – Four of Vermont’s five gubernatorial candidates debated many important issues Wednesday night, but energy siting and gun control seemed to generate the greatest interest from voters.
Candidates taking the state stage on a rural farm were Democrats Peter Galbraith, a former Windham County state senator and U.S. diplomat, and Google executive and former state senator Matt Dunne. On the Republican side were Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and retired Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman.
Renewable energy siting was a pressing issue, as local voters wanted to know where candidates stood on the virtually unrestrained wind-energy development advanced by the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin. Last fall, residents of Irasburg voted 274-9 against hosting 500-foot wind turbines on a ridgeline adjacent to local neighborhoods.
The loudest applause of the evening came when Galbraith called out the administration for its cozy relationship with developers and utilities.
“Frankly, our state government has been in bed with certain utilities and certain developers,” he said. “Look at the campaign contributions; there is one developer that has given $400,000 through his corporate entities because corporate contributions are allowed and our governors wanted to keep them.”
Galbraith claimed to be the only candidate that is flat-out for a ban on wind turbines in Vermont.
“My position is no new industrial scale wind projects in the state of Vermont. I will propose a ban and will not appoint anybody to the Public Service Board who would approve such a project if the legislature doesn’t enact a ban,” he said.
Lisman and Scott, while not specifically calling for an outright ban, are against new wind development.
One audience member asked Dunne if towns could expect to have veto power on siting of renewables if he became governor.
“Would you support legislation that says if a community votes and they say no, then no means no?” asked Noreen Hession of Newark.
“I would have to look at the legislation because there are implications for other utility development,” Dunne answered. “But I can tell you as governor I’m going to appoint someone (to the Public Service Department) who is going to listen to the community first and foremost, and I’m not going to be supporting projects that the communities object to.”
Moderator Jon Margolis, a VTDigger columnist and former Washington correspondant for the Chicago Tribune, asked about the candidates’ plans for “reducing greenhouse gases which cause global warming.” Candidates differed on whether obtaining 90 percent of energy from renewable energy sources by 2050 was a realistic goal.
“We actually need an energy plan, but not the one we got now that proposes 90 percent renewables,” Lisman said. “If you’ve read it, then you know what a teenage term paper looks like. I don’t think it measures consequence. I don’t think it measures true cost. It doesn’t include innovation or technology.”
Dunne supported the 90 percent by 2050 goal, stressing his belief that dire consequences would result from inaction on climate change.
“We need to stay on track to 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. I think that is what we can do, I think it is what we should do,” Dunne said.
All candidates seemed to agree that improved weatherization of homes and buildings was an important goal for Vermont’s energy future.
The gun debate
Scott and Lisman were quick to offer strong support for the Second Amendment, affirming that they oppose new restrictions on gun rights. Both Democrats called for more restrictions.
Dunne and Galbraith said they support expanded background checks and bans on certain types of “military style assault weapons,” a categorization not clearly defined by either candidate.
“I’m in favor of prohibiting the sale of those types of weapons for which the sole purpose is to kill large numbers of people – military style assault weapons,” Galbraith said.
Dunne seemed to agree when pressed on the gun ban issue.
“What I have said clearly is that if one that is workable comes to my desk, I will sign it,” Dunne said. “I think we are all interested in making sure that one person filled with hate cannot commit an atrocity.”
Galbraith explained his support for universal background checks, a policy proposal that went down in flames last year after sportsmen and gun enthusiasts across the state rallied in opposition.
“It literally makes no sense to have background checks when somebody goes to the store to buy a gun, perhaps because of a murder conviction, a felony, a domestic assault, but wants a gun and can lawfully go and buy it privately,” Galbraith said.
Dunne agreed on imposing expanded background checks on Vermonters.
“I cannot with a good conscience be a part of a state that does not do background checks on individuals who are purchasing guns … if those guns are going to contribute to an atrocity in another part of our region,” he said.
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