Politics

On WCAX, Shumlin and Brock face-off over new state hires, wind power, jobs

The venue for the third face-off between Gov. Peter Shumlin and his Republican challenger Randy Brock influenced the direction of the debate. Hosted by WCAX and held at the Community College of Vermont’s Montpelier campus, the discussion dwelt more substantively on the issue of education than previous encounters between the two candidates.

Watch the debate.

The gubernatorial candidates outlined distinct approaches to reducing the cost of higher education and improving K-12 test scores. Brock said he thinks there is an imbalance between state spending on K-12 and on higher education and argued that funds should be diverted from the former to the latter. Shumlin touted his role in lifting a cap on pre-K education and said he thinks the state should continue to focus on early education. According to Brock, the school year operates on an outdated “agrarian calendar,” and he would consider increasing the amount of time students spend in school in order to improve test scores. Shumlin disagreed with this approach, saying he would rectify lagging science and math scores by mandating algebra for 9th-graders and geometry for 10th-graders.

Brock criticized Shumlin for expanding the size of state government. He claims the state has hired an additional 400 employees since Shumlin took office. The governor didn’t refute that number. Instead, he argued that many of the jobs have to do with establishing the health care exchange and are supported through federal money from the Affordable Care Act. Shumlin identified the economic downtown and Tropical Storm Irene as the other major factors that have caused an uptick in the number of workers on the state payroll.

Brock reiterated his intention to shrink state government, and he said he would place a “steady hand on the rudder of government.”

This was the third debate between the two gubernatorial candidates, and much of the conversation was a reiteration of their stances on renewable energy, education, health care, economic growth, and the role of state government. Peppered among the recycled campaign pitches, however, were a host of colorful metaphors and a few feisty jabs.

Shumlin ridiculed Brock’s opposition to industrial wind projects in the context of climate change — “If your hair is on fire, you don’t call a moratorium to figure out how to put the fire out.”

When a WCAX moderator asked each candidate which Hollywood actor would play them in a film, Brock chose Clint Eastwood because he said: “I have experience debating with a chair.” (a not-so-subtle reference to the governor's refusal to debate the state senator outside seven agreed-upon media events. Shumlin said Dustin Hoffman could aptly portray him because people say they have similar physical features.

As has been typical during the campaign, there was a disconnect between the statistics cited by each candidate. Shumlin recited the claim that thousands of jobs have been created during his first term in office; Brock argued that 3,000 jobs had been lost. Brock referred to Vermont’s health care plan as a $5 billion dollar expense; Shumlin said the federal government supplies $3 billion of that cost. Shumlin asked Brock how unemployed people could pony up $6,500 to start a “business in a box." The state senator said that number was never included in his economic plan.

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Alicia Freese

About Alicia

Alicia Freese began her journalism career as a reporter with VTDigger. She later spent five years covering local and state politics as a staff writer for the Seven Days newspaper. Her work has won awards from the New England Newspaper & Press Association, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and the Vermont Press Association.

Email: [email protected]

Follow Alicia on Twitter @aefreese

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