Listen to Zuckerman discuss the issues:
MONTPELIER — After 18 years in the Legislature, Chittenden County Sen. David Zuckerman is hoping to take his bold, progressive politics to the lieutenant governor’s office.
The 44-year-old organic farmer from Hinesburg has sponsored many of the progressive initiatives implemented over the last decade. That’s not surprising since he serves as a Progressive, but also a Democrat, in the Senate. After running in the Democratic primaries for his two successful Senate bids, Zuckerman is now looking to follow the same path to become the state’s second-highest office holder.
He is asking Vermonters to judge him on the proposals he has championed in the past in the three-way primary he has entered with House Speaker Shap Smith and Burlington Rep. Kesha Ram.
“It’s many big pieces of legislation, I think, that sets me apart from my opponents. Introducing big ideas that were a little ahead of their time with their respect to the political class, but with grassroots efforts and a lot of organizing, brought politicians to be ready to vote for them. With that track record and history, I really looked at what the lieutenant governor’s position affords you as a person, which is, actually, a lot of time and organizing and getting people around the state into the process,” Zuckerman said.
He was contemplating entering the race more than a year ago but launched his campaign after Ram jumped in.
“That’s a process that I was going to spend all summer and fall and even winter talking and contemplating with people about,” he said. “When another campaign got in in October it sort of set the ball rolling. Once one is in they’re asking everyone for endorsements.”
Zuckerman is threading a needle. As a Progressive, Zuckerman admits that some Democrats view his bid with skepticism.
“Admittedly, I think the Democrats were frustrated that it was going really well and a lot of them started talking to Shap and pushing Shap to run and he got into the race,” Zuckerman said. “I have a lot of respect for Shap. We have some differences on issues.”
Smith entered the race late, in May, after dropping a bid for governor in November to help his wife battle breast cancer. Zuckerman notes that both he and Smith have the most experience, and he and Ram are more “bold.”
“(Smith) and I have a lot more experience than the other candidate in the race. We’ve both served longer, we both have children, we’ve both been involved in the private sector,” Zuckerman said. “He and I are different in our styles a little bit as well as in our boldness of our vision. I’ve articulated to many people that two of us are more experienced and two are more bold. I’m the one who’s both. So, if you want experience and vision, then I’d be the candidate people should choose.”
As lieutenant governor, Zuckerman said he would preside over the Senate — the only official responsibility of the lieutenant governor — “in a fair and impartial manner.”
“I think, uniquely, I come in as a less-partisan person to preside over the Senate,” he said, noting he is the only Democratic candidate who has served in the body and worked with minority Republicans.
He would also look to bring attention to the state’s rural economy, seek to protect the environment, address property taxes and look to boost wages and conditions for working Vermonters.
Zuckerman has also been a longtime proponent of legalizing marijuana in Vermont. He said prohibition of the drug has failed, and legalizing it can provide “a responsible economic opportunity.”
“It’s probably the biggest economic development bill for the state in 20 years,” he said. “Not only would there be bringing an underground economy above the fold so those folks pay taxes just like the rest of us do, and that would help our tax system so we won’t be nickel and diming people for years; but if you’re between 25 and 65 and you live in Connecticut and you’re going to go skiing, you might pick Vermont over somewhere else.”
The state “missed an opportunity last year” when the House failed to follow the Senate’s lead and passing a legalization bill. Zuckerman said if his bid for lieutenant governor is successful it will send a message to lawmakers that voters are ready to legalize.
“I think if folks do elect me it will show a lot of the House members who are thinking, ‘I don’t know if my constituents support this.’ Well, if I win statewide, I think it’s pretty obvious that you can be supportive of cannabis and not have your head handed to you, politically,” he said. “For those that care about that issue I think there’s been a real clear distinction of who’s been a leader on that.”
Zuckerman said he spent his younger years “growing up in the mountains of rural Virginia,” which helped shape his political philosophy. It’s where he developed his reverence for the environment. The experience helped him “figure out what to do on your own.” It’s where he learned to be independent.
“When you’re on your own you’ve got to solve problems,” he said.
As a young adult, Zuckerman attended the University of Vermont, which further developed his political views. He said he was cynical about political parties and the political system.
“And then this guy was running for Congress in 1992 and I heard about him, this guy Bernie (Sanders), who we all know and obviously love, who really inspired me — that you could wear your views right on your sleeve, stand up for them, and win or lose, you can live with yourself at the end of the day. If you win, you can go fight for those issues without looking over your shoulder wondering if your constituents didn’t realize you were going to push those issues. That’s how I’ve always run and it’s been very liberating,” he said.
His tenure in the Legislature, Zuckerman said, is based on “an idea that the issues matter more than whether or not I’m the one who’s doing them.”
Farming, which is the source of his livelihood, has offered remarkable parallels to his political career, according to Zuckerman.
“You plant a seed, you put out an idea,” he said. “You nurture it with water and you weed it, you talk to friends and neighbors and media and you get your idea out there. It grows, the idea builds momentum. Eventually you harvest the fruit, eventually the idea hopefully becomes law. I think there’s some incredible parallels there.”
If Zuckerman is to be successful in the primary, he will need to overcome at least one major hurdle. He has been denied access to the state Democratic Party’s voter list, which helps candidates identify likely voters and target their messages. Because he is a Progressive, Democrats have decided against providing him access to the list.
“I think there is an influence and an impact. I think I can overcome it. I think most Vermonters, if they learn about this, would be very frustrated by it, particularly what happened with Bernie and establishment politics and the finger on the scale,” he said. “I’m not Bernie and I don’t have the persona of Bernie and everyone is not goo goo gaga over me, but in Vermont there is huge support for Bernie and a huge following that understands establishment pressures that worked against him, and if there’s anything that’s going to get them frustrated it’s learning that the state party is doing the same thing.”
If elected, Zuckerman said he will tap Vermonters to help govern.
“We have some real challenges. On the other hand, we have incredible energy around the state. We have resources of individual entrepreneurship and creative minds that have come up with solutions to problems that folks thought could never be solved. We’ve been bold and out there and our state is the better for it, whether it’s the billboard law, whether it’s marriage equality, whether it’s end-of-life choices,” he said. “I think we can continue to be leaders, and we have been. I think of energy issues and climate change … are we going to change the world with our policies? No, but can we set an example? Yes. Can we set an example of a just economy with a sound environmental footprint? I think that’s the challenge of our time.”