Gubernatorial candidates debate in Barre

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas and his Democratic challenger Peter Clavelle met in a spirited debate at Barre’s Old Labor Hall last night. Several hundred people attended the debate which was sponsored by the Peace and Justice Center.

The two candidates disagreed over a number of key issues. Clavelle said he thinks all state employees should earn a “livable wage” – a level pegged at between $11 and $14 an hour. Douglas said he backs a voluntary effort to achieve that goal.

Clavelle told the crowd he wants to implement universal access to health care in the state in three years; Douglas said he opposed a rigid mandate to reach this threshold.

Clavelle also tried to link Douglas to the policies of President Bush on several occasions, including the President’s recent cuts in affordable housing programs:

(Clavelle) “And this is where the chickens come home to roost, this is where the policies of George Bush have a direct, a dramatic, an immediate impact upon the people of the state of Vermont. The Bush cuts in the Section 8 program could put 700 Vermont families out of affordable housing.”

(Host) Douglas told the crowd that the best way to improve living conditions for all Vermonters is to create new good paying jobs. And the governor said Clavelle’s plan to provide health care has a hidden $90 million price tag:

(Douglas) “And we can move forward toward achieving that goal in a responsible and incremental way. We’re not going to do it by simply proclaiming that everyone’s going to have health care with no new taxes and not explaining how it’s going to be paid. This hocus pocus health care plan is simply not going to work.”

(Host) The two candidates also clashed over the best way to provide lower cost prescription drugs. Clavelle says he supports a plan to purchase these drugs from Canada; that’s a step that Douglas says he doesn’t want to take because it’s against the law. Instead the governor is backing a multi-state purchasing pool to help reduce drug costs and his administration is suing the federal government over a re-importation plan.

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