Lt. Gov. Zuckerman Wants 'Everyday Citizens' Voices' In Vermont's Legislative Process

Jan 9, 2017

Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, who ran as a Progressive and a Democrat, says he wants his office to provide working Vermonters with greater access to state government.

Last Thursday morning, Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson administered the lieutenant governor's oath of office to former state senator David Zuckerman.

Zuckerman, who has had an 18-year career at the Statehouse as a member of both the House and the Senate, is the only lieutenant governor in the country who is from a third party.

The longtime Progressive operates an organic vegetable farm in Chittenden County and used his farming background in his speech to the Senate.

On each senator's desk, Zuckerman placed a small box with a seed inside. Zuckerman used the gift to send a message to his colleagues.

“As we work to better our state, clean our water, build our soil, feed our families, create new jobs and opportunities, remember that each person, like each seed that you hold, has something unique and positive to offer and each is also shaped by the environment around them,” he said.

The specific duties of the lieutenant governor are quite limited. The person serves as the presiding officer of the Senate and they play a key role in committee assignments.

Senators John Rodgers, center, and Bobby Starr, right, inspect seeds that Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a farmer, gifted to his colleagues on the day of his swearing in.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR

The lieutenant governor also serves as acting governor whenever the governor goes out of state.  

Zuckerman feels that a number of Vermonters don't interact with lawmakers because they're intimidated by the workings of the Statehouse.

He says he wants to use his office as a gateway to the Legislature to help working Vermonters support a host of "economic justice" issues.

These include paid family leave, raising the state minimum wage and providing greater access to affordable health care.

“My goal and hope is to get more everyday citizens' voices incorporated into the process,” he says. “And I think if we do that then many of those issues that I just spoke about, I think will become front-burner issues." 

Zuckerman says his election as lieutenant governor is a key development for Vermont's Progressive Party because it highlights the strength of the party in many parts of the state.

[With] Bernie's success across the country, there's certainly been communications to me and interest from across the country going, 'What are you all doing over there? How is this possible?'" — Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman

In addition to Zuckerman, there are now seven House members and five senators who are affiliated with the Progressives.

Zuckerman says the success of the Progressive Party in Vermont is being viewed as a model in a number of other states. 

“Juxtaposed to the sentiment of what's happening around the country, I think that's really where the dynamic is so stark,” Zuckerman says. “And Bernie's success across the country, there's certainly been communications to me and interest from across the country going, ‘What are you all doing over there? How is this possible?’”

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says one of the reasons the Progressive Party is growing in Vermont is because there's an unofficial truce between the Progressives and the Democrats.

Davis says the two parties rarely run candidates against each other when there's also a Republican in the race.

And a growing number of Progressives, including Zuckerman, also won the Democratic nomination for their office.

"We used to see that 10, 15, 20, years ago where Republicans might end up winning a three-way race because the Democrats and the Progressives divided the non-Republican vote, that's not happening any more,” Davis says.

Davis thinks the Progressive model would best be replicated in smaller states where personal campaigning is a key part of the election process.

"The difference between Vermont and other states is that since we're smaller, even though a lot of money was spent in the elections last year, it's much less than in most other states,” Davis says. “Personal campaigning still makes a big difference, getting around the state."

As part of his outreach effort, Zuckerman says he plans to hold community meetings in all parts of Vermont in the coming months.

And, unlike his predecessor, Gov. Phil Scott, who also served in former Gov. Peter Shumlin's cabinet, Zuckerman says he does not expect to have a formal role in the Scott administration.