ST. ALBANS — David Zuckerman wants his old job back.
After losing the race for governor in 2020, garnering only 27.5% of the vote to incumbent Gov. Phil Scott’s 68.8%, the long-time Progressive and veteran politician wants to return to the lieutenant governor seat.
“A number of people around the state reached out and said there is nobody in the statewide offices who really has the breadth and passion that I have, and that's now missing,” he said, seated in the Messenger office late last month.
In the Democratic primaries on Aug. 9, Zuckerman will face competition from Kitty Toll, former chair of the House Appropriations Committee, State Rep. Charlie Kimball (D-Woodstock) and nonprofit leader Patricia Preston.
Zuckerman said he’s the best person for the job, not only because he’s held the position before, but because his passion aligns with the current moment.
“It feels like there's less momentum and less urgency around issues like the climate crisis, economic justice, racial and social justice,” he said. “There's good work happening, but not to the extent that it needs to happen given the urgency of our time.”
“Time” was a word that kept coming up in the conversation. While it was nice to have “time” — two years of it, away from politics on his Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg — Zuckerman said the clock is ticking on several issues, including civility in democracy, climate change and economic inequities.
He said he’ll rally his network contacts and supporters to build coalitions around these issues and encourage Vermonters to call and email their legislators en masse.
His contact list is one of the biggest in the state, he said, which he acquired from having served as a representative, a senator and as lieutenant governor.
“That means that I can really operate well with one foot in the statehouse, and one foot out around the state to really bring more people into our democracy,” he said.
And bringing people into the state’s democracy has never been more important. Zuckerman said he experienced firsthand the disconnect so many feel from Montpelier when he left the political scene two years ago.
“When you got your head down to the grind, whether it's running a small business or trying to work 60 hours a week to put food on the table, there's just not a lot of time in the day to advocate for yourself and influence what's happening,” he said. “So this time around, I'll go into this job with even more energy around helping people get the information they need in their limited time.”
Meeting the demand for climate action
Since his days as a student at the University of Vermont, Zuckerman has called himself a climate activist. But working at his family farm for the last two years, he said he saw the climate crisis up close and in a more personal way than ever before.
“I'm even more intensely aware and nervous for our future,” he said.
While he’s happy to see federal money come down the pipe for climate initiatives, he thinks Vermont needs to shift its thinking to long-term investments.
For example, the $80 million or so the state has budgeted for upcoming weatherization programs is great, but most of that amount is made up of one-time, federal money.
“It's going to be gone in a year or two,” he said. “And we need to keep this pace for the next 10 years if we're going to meet our 2030 and 2040 goals.”
Sustainable, year-after-year investments are necessary so that the local business community knows when and how much demand to expect, he said.
Vermont’s climate workforce needs to ramp up its training, its staffing and its infrastructure, but it won’t be able to do that if the money for weatherization, solar and more fluctuates dramatically from year to year.
“Unless we work in a planned way, the business community can’t trust that they can make those investments,” he said.
How broadband correlates to housing
During his meeting with the Messenger, Zuckerman was sure to point out that he’s long been outspoken about the need for high-quality broadband. He was an advocate before the COVID-19 pandemic made it convenient to talk about, he said.
“Everyone's talking about it when it's kind of a completed task, but it's something that anybody who gets elected to this office, two years from now will say, ‘See what I accomplished,’ even though it will have had very little to do with who's lieutenant governor.”
The millions of federal dollars dedicated to broadband will help Communication Union Districts build the foundational infrastructure Vermont needs, he said. And the use of that infrastructure will generate the funds necessary to sustain and grow it.
Today though, the demand for increased broadband access is coming from rural Vermonters, and from residents who moved to the state because of the draw Vermont had during the pandemic.
“We did phenomenally during the pandemic, and that has put Vermont on the map as a place to live,” Zuckerman said.
To meet that demand, Zuckerman said Vermont’s developers need to build small, affordable, energy-efficient homes. That building, simultaneously with the expansion of high-speed broadband to village centers, will keep Vermonters in Vermont.
A ripple effect of more people in the workforce and more support of small businesses will follow, he said.