Vermont activist Brenda Siegel launches Democratic bid for governor

Brenda Siegel announces her candidacy for governor at a press conference in Montpelier on Monday, May 2. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Vermonters have their first contender for this year’s gubernatorial election.

Brenda Siegel, an anti-poverty activist and two-time statewide candidate, on Monday launched a campaign for governor on the steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier.

Siegel, who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primaries for the 2018 governor’s race and the 2020 lieutenant governor’s race, said she thinks this year is different. She told reporters Monday that she has been able to build name recognition since 2018, when “no one knew who (she) was.” 

Expecting other challengers to step into the race, she said her life experiences will set her apart. Siegel has spoken about living in poverty and losing family members, including her brother and nephew, to drug overdoses.

“We need a governor that understands those systems inside and out: one who has done the work on the ground with the people, in the Legislature and within the systems,” she said. “We need a governor who knows what it is to navigate those systems as a single mom, and the shame you endure, and the fiery hoops that you have to clear, to get help.”

With less than one month until the state’s filing deadline, Siegel is the first candidate to enter the race. Incumbent Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has yet to announce his plans. 

Even so, other potential challengers courted by the Vermont Democratic Party have been reluctant to challenge one of the nation’s most popular governors, fearing he is unbeatable.

But with the August primary months away, Siegel on Monday positioned herself as a challenger to Scott. She criticized the governor’s response to an unprecedented housing crisis, saying he failed to expand housing access for low- and middle-income Vermonters and should have done more to protect tenants during the Covid pandemic.

“We need a governor that understands those systems inside and out: one who has done the work on the ground with the people, in the Legislature and within the systems,” Siegel said on Monday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Siegel also criticized Scott’s initial hesitancy to support a 2021 bill that decriminalized small amounts of buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid use disorder. (Scott ultimately signed the bill into law.) Siegel was a vocal supporter of that bill through its passage.

After years as a housing and substance use disorder activist, Siegel gained the most attention last fall when she slept on the Statehouse steps for 27 nights to pressure leaders to extend the state’s motel voucher program for Vermonters without permanent housing. The goal, she said, was to serve as a constant reminder to lawmakers about the realities of living outside, confronting them on their walks to work and pressuring them to act.

After nearly a month of sleeping on the cold stone steps, she and fellow activists prevailed when the program was extended through the winter.

Asked Monday if Siegel thinks Scott is a decent person, she said she doesn’t know him outside of his role as governor, “but his policies have caused real harm.”

“I mean, people have died because of his unwillingness to sign certain bills,” she said. “And so regardless if he's the kind of guy that would stack your wood for you, like many of my neighbors are, regardless if he is a kind or a decent human being, he has a flawed idea of these issues.”

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Sarah Mearhoff

About Sarah

Sarah Mearhoff is one of VTDigger's political reporters, covering the Vermont statehouse, executive branch and congressional delegation. Prior to joining Digger, she covered Minnesota and South Dakota state politics for Forum Communications' newspapers across the Upper Midwest for three years. She has also covered politics in Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she is a proud alumna of the Pennsylvania State University where she studied journalism.

Email: [email protected]

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