Democratic gubernatorial candidates applaud the organizers of the debate held at Sterling College on June 18. From left to right, the candidates were state senators Susan Bartlett, Douglas Racine and Peter Shumlin. At the far left end of the table is Jon Margolis, who served as moderator. Photo by Joseph Gresser
CRAFTSBURY COMMON — The debate held at Sterling College lacked two-fifths of its advertised content. Only three of the five Democratic candidates for Governor appeared for their scheduled meeting here on Thursday evening, June 17.
The three who did show up for questioning by veteran newspaperman Jon Margolis and an audience of about 120 people espoused similar positions on many issues, but gave clues as how their styles of governance might differ.
State Senators Susan Bartlett of Lamoille County, Douglas Racine of Chittenden County, and Peter Shumlin of Windham County made it to the debate, but former Senator Matt Dunne was home with a newborn child and Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz had a conflicting event on her schedule.
Mr. Margolis’ second question also had special resonance for a local audience. A bill to save the life of Pete the Moose effectively transferred ownership of as many as two hundred white-tailed deer to a private landowner. How, Mr. Margolis asked, could candidates reconcile that decision with the public trust doctrine which holds that wild animal belong to all citizens of the state?
Ms. Bartlett, who was one of the sponsors of the bill in question, said the decision to save Pete involved a conflict among wildlife biologists in and out of the state about the threat of chronic wasting disease. “If you get a hold of a group of scientists who agree on something, it will be a miracle,” Ms. Bartlett said about the hearings held on the subject.
She said the situation regarding Pete the Moose was one in which “pure policy in theory runs into the real world and how to resolve it.” State fish and wildlife officials wanted to slaughter Pete the Moose and all the deer who share his fenced-in area to avoid a threat that had not been shown to exist, Ms. Bartlett said.
One solution considered to resolve the issue was to declare Pete to be a dog or a cow or a horse, she joked. But in the end, transferring ownership of the herd was “our very pragmatic solution to a difficult situation.” Ms. Bartlett told the audience that if she is elected governor they can expect her “to go with pragmatism most of the time.”
Mr. Racine agreed with Ms. Bartlett that the decision to save Pete at the cost of transferring ownership of wild animals to a private citizen was a tough one. He said it was a time “where the emotional response sort of trumped the more scientific based response.”
“The best part of what we do is find those sorts of balances,” Mr. Racine said. He added that the bill had passed in the last minutes of the legislative session and that it was hard for lawmakers to gauge the full range of implications in their vote to save Pete.
Mr. Shumlin said his position as President Pro Tem of the Senate made him the least popular person in the State House. That made his decision on the bill easy, he said, because “I’ll always vote against anything that would slaughter Pete on the Senate floor.”
Under Mr. Margolis’ prodding all three candidates said they would respect the public trust doctrine in future decisions.