Rights and Democracy — a group that advocates for a broad range of issues ranging from access to health care to livable wages — will host a pair of gubernatorial forums Saturday, and when they do, one of the five declared candidates will not be there.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, declined Rights and Democracy’s invitation.
“I have significant concerns about this organization’s extreme tactics and respect for those with whom they disagree,” said Scott’s campaign manager, Brittney Wilson.
Wilson referenced the behavior of the Vermont Workers’ Center during Gov. Peter Shumlin’s State of the State Address in January 2015, in which members of the group protested the fact Shumlin had shelved his single-payer health care plan.
Aly Johnson-Kurts, communications director for Rights and Democracy, noted that her organization was founded in September 2015, nine months after the protest.
“We support health care for all, but our organization was not involved with the protest at the State House because our organization did not exist,” Johnson-Kurts said.
“These are the same people. Maybe different organizations, but they are the same people,” Wilson countered. “This group is rude and disrespectful with those they do not agree with. Their radical tactics are counterproductive to the conversation we have to have about strengthening our economy and making Vermont more affordable. We will not legitimize their behavior by participating in their events.”
Johnson-Kurts said Scott had been open to attending the forums until the organization endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.
“We were working closely with the Scott campaign to find an amenable date for our forums until days after we endorsed Senator Sanders for president, when the campaign declined our invitation,” Johnson-Kurts said.
Wilson argued that, despite skipping the Rights & Democracy events, Scott remains very much accessible to the public.
“There are various forums scheduled throughout the state, and plenty of chances for Vermonters to see and hear the candidates who are running for governor,” Wilson said.
While Scott is not attending, Bruce Lisman — the other Republican candidate in the race — will be there. Other gubernatorial candidates include Democrats Matt Dunne, Peter Galbraith and Sue Minter.
Johnson-Kurts said there will be an open chair for Scott, should he change his mind.
The will be two forums, the first from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, located at 2 Duane Court in Middlebury. The second will be held from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 200 Pleasant St. in Bennington.