VERMONT — On Aug. 9, voters will have two very different choices for the Republican nominee for Vermont’s lieutenant governor.
Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) and Gregory Thayer of Rutland are facing off in this year’s primary election. The winner will challenge the Democratic nominee in the general election on Nov. 8.
Though the lieutenant governor position is limited in actual duties, the job will give either candidate a considerable platform.
A resident of Lyndon and an attorney, Benning is a moderate Republican who was first elected to the Senate in 2010. He advocated for the legalization of marijuana and voted for Proposition 5, which would codify Vermont’s abortion rights.
Benning touts his experience on various senate committees and as the former minority leader as reasons why he’s qualified for the position.
Thayer, a private practice accountant, has been active on Rutland City boards and initiatives for years. He is the founder of Vermonters for Vermont, a conservative group with about 1,900 followers on Facebook, and he traveled with other members of the group to Washington D.C. during the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.
The Messenger asked each candidate the following questions. Their responses have been edited for length and for clarity.
Q: Why are you running for lieutenant governor?
BENNING: First, I’m the best qualified candidate to help the governor remind legislators that Vermont remains in the midst of an affordability crisis. I’ve helped Gov. Phil Scott and his administrative team sell that message as Senate Minority Leader and Senate Institutions chair.
Second, I know how to moderate a meeting, with ten years as Lyndon Town Moderator, four years as Institutions Chair and as past chair of Vermont’s Human Rights Commission.
Third, I’m the best qualified candidate to assist the Senate at a time when that body is coming out of COVID-19 and one-third of the body will be brand new. I’m the only candidate intimately familiar with all twenty returning senators.
Finally, as a member of all Joint and Senate Rules committees, and member of the Joint Legislative Management Committee, I’m the only candidate versed in the rules by which the Senate runs.
THAYER: I feel it's a political position. I'm a political guy. I'm also a policy wonk. I love being in the debate, the discussion, listening, hearing, communicating, and I just felt it was a perfect fit for me.
[If elected], I myself am going to kind of follow the [former Lt. Gov.] Brian Dubie model, and I'm going to go out and I'm going to market Vermont. I'm going to work with the Canadians and any other foreign country.
When I was a city alderman, I introduced a ‘Market Rutland’ initiative, and we went to New York and New Hampshire to talk to business owners about investing in the Rutland market.
Q: What experience prepares you for this position?
BENNING: Having served 12 years in the Senate, I can recite the language of how the lieutenant governor moderates the Senate in my sleep.
My experience running meetings (ten years as Lyndon Town Moderator, four years as Senate Institutions chair, four years as Senate Judiciary vice-chair, Senate Ethics Committee chair, Senate Sexual Harassment Panel chair, Joint Judicial Rules chair, chair of the State House Complex Security Committee, chair of Vermont’s Human Rights Commission, president of the Lyndonville Rotary Club), means I am confident I can moderate the Senate.
Having served on several Joint and Senate Rules committees, and having helped draft the Rules that brought virtual access to the State House, I understand the mechanics of how the legislature’s pieces fit together.
THAYER: I served on Rutland’s city council and worked to market Rutland in that role and as a volunteer at the Rutland Chamber of Commerce.
Going out and meeting and talking with people — I have been one of those guys and gals that have been there talking with businesses trying to share with them the nice face of Rutland.
Q: What issues can you deliver for Vermont on in a two-year term?
BENNING: In addition to helping [the governor] keep legislative spending in check, I have two intentions.
The first is to constantly remind legislators that our constitutions (both state and federal) are the glue that bind us as a society. When they take an oath to protect and defend those documents, I will be a constant reminder of that obligation.
Secondly, I see the lieutenant governor’s position as an ideal place from which to promote Vermont’s proud people and their work ethic, our economic successes and opportunities, Vermont’s remarkable history, and these pristine green hills and silver waters. I’ll travel anywhere, on my dime, to promote Vermont any way I can.
THAYER: I can bring people in and talk to them and listen to all kinds of stakeholders.
I did go around the state last year and host town halls on Critical Race Theory and Americanism and Marxism. When I started the Vermonters for Vermont initiative in December 2018, it was about educating Vermonters. It was about Vermonters talking.
I want to bring people together now to talk about the cost of living in Vermont. In my opinion, it is way out of control … but I also firmly believe government can't be and shouldn't be all things to all people. We need personal responsibility. We need people taking care of themselves.
I also want to see Prop 5 defeated … I just I don't think that abortion needs to be codified or enshrined in our state constitution. I don't think it belongs there.
Q: What sets you apart from your opponent?
BENNING: Working relationships with Gov. Phil Scott and his campaign and administrative teams. I've supported him for 12 years. In the event the governor is unable to perform his function, a transition into that office would be virtually seamless.
My opponent has for years made clear he does not agree with the governor's policy and wants him removed from the Republican party. If he had to transition into that role, and deal with an $8.2 billion state-corporation, he would have already alienated the very people he would need to help him.
I also have a working relationship with the 20 senators likely to return to the building next year. At a time the Senate will have ten new senators, and as the body is still coming off COVID-19, I'm far better positioned to participate in the Committee on Committees conversations, appointing chairs and members to the various committees serving the Senate.
THAYER: On Jan. 6 , I was in D.C. He’s [Benning] come out and condemned everybody who was there.
I didn’t go into the Capitol building; what happened there was disgusting to me. I went because the president [Donald Trump] was speaking and just to be there with everybody. I thought it was a good day up until the breach.
I didn’t know what Vice President Mike Pence would do. I had my suspicions he would go the way he went, but I didn’t really know … and I heard what the president said, he didn’t incite us by any means … It was just a lot of fun.
Now we need to just move on. Learn from it, but move on. We can’t keep holding our country back with this.