In His First Gubernatorial Debate, Liberty Union Candidate Bill Lee Highlights His Outsider Status

Sep 22, 2016

On Thursday afternoon, Liberty Union candidate Bill “Spaceman” Lee made his debut on the gubernatorial debate stage. Seated alongside Democrat Sue Minter and Republican Phil Scott, the former Red Sox lefty fielded questions about issues facing Vermont women. And the Craftsbury resident made it clear early on that he isn’t your average candidate.

Lee ambled into the House chamber of the Statehouse a few minutes late for his first debate of 2016 campaign. He wore jeans and an untucked tropical shirt with a picture of a sunbathing brunette in a red bathing suit on the left front pocket.

Trailed closely by a two-man camera crew from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which is doing a documentary on his run, Lee took his designated seat at the table. Over the course of the 90-minute event, Lee frequently acknowledged his outsider status.

A full look at the policy positions presented by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Sue Minter during Thursday's debate will be available later today.

“And I may be out of the box,” Lee said. “But out of the box is good. When you’re out of the box you can see the ridges, you can see the trees, which are alive. You can see everything that’s alive out there.”

Lee hasn’t raised any money. He doesn’t have a campaign staff. He’s said he’d treat the governor’s office as a part time job. And so far, he hasn’t done much campaigning beyond his attendance at Thursday’s debate, which was hosted by the Vermont Commission on Women.

But thanks to Republican Phil Scott, who has insisted on Lee’s inclusion in almost all general election gubernatorial debates, Lee will have plenty of chances this fall to connect with Vermont voters.

"I may be out of the box, but out of the box is good. When you're out of the box you can see the ridges, you can see the trees ... You can see everything that's alive out there." — Bill Lee

On Thursday, Lee took the debate audience on a rhetorical journey to unexpected destinations. A question about how candidates would address the challenges facing working mothers, for instance, meandered its way to this insight:

“I’m not an atheist. I believe in God. She’s black. And her name is Lucy. And that’s where it starts from,” Lee said.

Lee didn’t offer up any discernible policy positions related to that question, or any others for that matter. But women, he insisted, will do well in his administration.

“Women are going to be fine in my utopian environment,” Lee said. “They’re going to run the show, because a lion sits on his ass and licks himself. It’s the females that go out and hunt.”

Fundamentally, Lee says the root of Vermont, and the nation’s problems are its citizens’ eating habits, and their disregard for the environment.

“And we’re a civilization that is on the brink of becoming extinct,” he said.

Asked about the condition of the women’s prison in Vermont, and the fate of the women doing time there, Lee said the solution lies in eradicating obesity.

“And that’s where your opioid [addictions] come from,” Lee said. “We’re fat, we’re out of shape, we’re lazy, we’re round and we do not exercise enough.”

"That's where your opioid [addictions] come from. We're fat, we're out of shape, we're lazy, we're round and we do not exercise enough." — Bill Lee

When asked about getting more women into the science, technology and math careers, Lee focused on the need to create jobs, then recalled a feud with former president Ronald Reagan.

“I couldn’t stand him. I used to quail hunt up on his ridge in Verdugo, in California, and finally he put his estate up there, and I couldn’t shoot mountain quail anymore, and I really didn’t like him after that. But back to jobs,” Lee said.

On ensuring accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace, Lee offered this:

“You know I believe in the workplace. I’ve always been that way,” Lee said. “I’m a renaissance guy in that respect. I believe in every woman’s right that’s out there.”

At Thursday's debate in Montpelier hosted by the Vermont Commission on Women, Bill Lee says he's not in cahoots with Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Scott insisted on Lee's inclusion in this year's gubernatorial debates.
Credit Peter Hirschfeld / VPR

And when debate moderator Anne Galloway, founder of VTDigger.org, asked the candidates what they’d do as governor to assist victims in human trafficking cases, and hold their perpetrators responsible, Lee recalled playing baseball with inmates at San Quentin prison before offering his solution.

“You take away the economic problem, people are happy to go to work, they’re not into trafficking,” Lee said.

His answer to the trafficking question then segued to his thoughts on firearms.

“I shoot ducks. I have a Browning auto 5, I have a Browning 410, I have a 28 gauge, I have an Ithaca 16 gauge,” Lee said.

And lastly, Lee touched on home safety.

“I don’t believe in hand guns. I have a 36-caliber Colt conversion Jesse James gun. I couldn’t hit jack diddley with that thing, you know? But it will kill close range,” Lee said. “If you’re afraid, go out and get two grey geese, put them on your front steps and I guarantee you no one’s going to come up to your front door without you knowing about. We don’t need more guns, we need more geese. Thank you.”

Lee at times reflected on his fish-out-water status.

“I sound like Mr. Smith goes to Washington. I kind of feel like it. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in here,” Lee said.

He then turned his attention to the shape of the House chamber’s domed ceiling.

“I like round things, you know?” Lee said. “I’m a geodesic dome guy. I want to live in a geodesic dome. I want to save this planet. And I think being governor is a good start.”

Lt. Gov. Scott may have insisted on Lee’s inclusion in this year’s debates. But Lee made it clear they’re not in cahoots.

“I’m not out here to take away Sue’s votes,” Lee said. “I’m out here after Phil’s votes.”

'I'm not out here to take away Sue [Minter]'s votes. I'm out here after Phil [Scott]'s votes." — Bill Lee

Asked after the debate whether he still thinks it’s a wise idea to include the Liberty Union candidate in future forums and debates, Scott said it is. The lieutenant governor says he’s heard people say they don’t know much about Bill Lee, but would consider voting for him.

“But they liked the idea that he played for the Red Sox,” Scott said. “Now they can have an opportunity to see what his platform is.”

Minter, asked about the three-person format, said she prefers it to the empty chair she faced off against at a debate hosted by WDEV at the Tunbridge Fair last Saturday. When WDEV’s Mike Smith refused to capitulate to Scott’s condition that Lee be invited, Scott opted not to attend, leaving Minter as the lone participant in the “debate.”