Activist, moderate square off in race for Vermont lieutenant governor

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MONTPELIER, Vermont — When he needs to take out his aggression, Phil Scott heads to the Thunder Road racetrack, gets into a lime green Chevrolet emblazoned with the logos of local businesses and pursues his part-time, and often successful, passion as a race car driver.

Around the Statehouse, where Scott serves as lieutenant governor, he is variously described as low-key, easygoing and a broker of heated political debates. It's a formula that has enabled him to serve as the only Republican statewide officeholder in what is often described as the most liberal state in the country.

And Scott, who is seeking his third two-year term in the Nov. 4 election, is also not afraid to say, "I was wrong," as he did this past week about the Green Mountain Care Board, the panel created in 2011 to overhaul Vermont's health care system.

He initially was critical of the panel set up to find ways to rein in health care costs and eventually design a state-backed plan to provide coverage to every Vermonter. But the board has met with some success on the first part of its mission.

Now Scott says he'd support creation of a Green Mountain Education Board to look for savings in Vermont's public schools.

The mind-mannered moderation of the 56-year-old Scott is in contrast to the earnest, studied activism of his challenger, Dean Corren, a longtime member of the Progressive Party from Burlington, a former state representative and a renewable energy entrepreneur whose company, Verdant Power, developed underwater tidal power turbines now in use in New York's East River.

Corren, 59, says the job of lieutenant governor isn't just about presiding over the state Senate and subbing for the governor in his or her absence. Rather, he said, he would be more aggressive than Scott in pushing issues important to him — universal health care and efforts to stem climate change tops among them.

"It is what you make of it," Corren said of being the state's No. 2. "You can weigh in on any other issue that is of great importance to Vermonters."

In addition to the Progressive nod, Corren garnered the nomination of the Democratic Party, which many expected could make the race the most competitive on this year's ballot. Marina Brown of Charleston, the candidate of the Liberty Union Party, is also in the race.

Corren has distinguished himself this year by being the only one in Vermont taking advantage of the public financing available to candidates for governor and lieutenant governor.

Both Scott and Corren said that as they travel the state to campaign, voters are telling them that property taxes — and recent rapid increases in them — are the biggest issue.

In a debate last week, Scott talked up his idea of a Green Mountain Education Board to develop cost-cutting measures, while Corren said he would expand a state program that allows middle- and lower-income property owners to pay school taxes based more on income than on the values of their property.

Corren dismissed the idea of a centralized board, saying that would run counter to Vermonters' support for local control in school governance.

On renewable energy, Scott said he has grown more skeptical of large-scale wind power projects, which Corren said Vermont likely needs but must better plan their placement.

On health care, Scott said he remains skeptical about universal, state-backed health care, because its supporters have not said to date what the program would cost, how it would be paid for and what services it would cover.

Scott said he considers it no extra or special burden to be his party's sole statewide office holder. He said he's hoping Republicans can rebuild their profile in Vermont first by winning some additional seats in the Legislature.

"We have to prove ourselves. We have to listen to voters and react accordingly," he said.

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