When supporters of Bernie Sanders rallied with the senator just a few days before the New Hampshire February primary in the college town of Keene, a young and enthusiastic crowd cheered for Sanders’s national cochair Nina Turner, whose ability to rouse audiences across the country made her a star on the campaign trail.
But Turner was cheering that night for another of the senator’s vocal surrogates, Vermont Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman. “I was just so impressed,” she recalls. “He was so authentic. He showed vision, compassion, and fight—all the attributes that are necessary in today’s climate.”
Turner wasn’t the only one who was impressed with Zuckerman. Today, she and the other three national cochairs of the 2020 Sanders campaign—Representative Ro Khanna; Mayor Carmen Yulin-Cruz of San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Ben Cohen, the veteran activist and cofounder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream—are set to jointly endorse Zuckerman’s bid for governor of Vermont. “While Bernie’s campaign for president has ended, the political revolution continues with the many he has inspired,” says Khanna, who adds, “David is not just on the front lines of the progressive wave coming to our nation’s government, he is leading the charge.”
The show of support for Zuckerman, a 48-year-old small farmer and former state legislator who has worked closely with Sanders since the 1990s, is one of the many ways in which prominent Sanders backers are continuing their activism now that the senator has suspended his campaign. The grassroots People for Bernie Sanders movement is focusing attention on the many Democratic primaries yet to come and highlighting the new “Once Again” campaign’s message that while the senator from Vermont is no longer actively bidding for the party nomination, “you should still vote for Bernie in upcoming primaries” in order to elect Democratic National Convention delegates who will write a progressive platform and reform party rules. The Our Revolution group that emerged from the senator’s 2016 campaign is highlighting policy fights, such as the struggle to save the Postal Service. Former aides and strategists are making the case for Joe Biden and for fresh organizing strategies, forming new groups, and, in some cases, creating controversial political action committees.
Many Sanders allies and supporters are bidding for office this year, and Zuckerman is among the most prominent of their number. Elected as Vermont’s lieutenant governor in 2016 on the combined votes from the ballot lines of the state’s independent Progressive Party and the Democratic Party, and reelected in 2018, Zuckerman is running in this year’s Democratic primary against Rebecca Holcombe, who previously served as secretary of education in Republican Governor Phil Scott’s administration, and Bennington lawyer Pat Winburn for a chance to challenge an expected reelection bid by Scott.
The lieutenant governor will also seek the Progressive Party ballot line as a write-in candidate and, if he wins both nominations, he’ll appear on the November ballot as a Progressive/Democratic candidate.
That prospect appears to have Republicans rattled—perhaps because when they were both on the ballot on 2018, Zuckerman won 7,000 more votes than were cast for Scott.
The Republican Governor’s Association is already attacking Zuckerman, charging that he has an “extreme and divisive agenda” and that the lieutenant governor holds “fringe views” on vaccinations—citing a 2015 legislative debate in which he expressed support for allowing philosophical exemptions to vaccination mandates. Holcombe has raised the same criticism. Yet Zuckerman points out that he supports the state’s current vaccine law, which requires that all Vermont children be vaccinated before entering school, while allowing religious objections and medical exemptions. At a recent forum, Vermont’s VTDigger reported, Zuckerman spoke about the importance of assuring that a coronavirus vaccine be “universally accessible and free” and said, “I will trust the scientists when the vaccine comes out.”
Zuckerman says the RGA attacks confirm two things: that the Vermont race is drawing national attention, and that Republicans “see me as a threat.”
Much like Sanders, whom Zuckerman refers to as an inspiration and a mentor, the lieutenant governor identifies as “a progressive populist that speaks out about wealth concentration and about racial and social justice.”
Sanders campaigned for Zuckerman when he ran for lieutenant governor, and Zuckerman returned the favor in February when he barnstormed through New Hampshire on the senator’s behalf. While Sanders tends to hold off making endorsements until closer to election day, many of his Vermont backers have already aligned with the Zuckerman campaign. Climate activist Bill McKibben was on board early, saying, “As we face the very real climate crisis, David can figure out how to turn it into an economic opportunity. And in a larger sense, he will end our pause on policymaking and start coping with the financial and demographic pressures we actually face. He will be a good steward for our nifty little state.”
Cohen, who started making Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream in Burlington in the mid-1970s with his friend Jerry Greenfield, says, “I have supported David over the years as he has worked for Vermont farmers, small businesses and families. I have also gotten to know him personally as the incredibly kind, thoughtful, and dedicated person he is.”
Why are Cohen and his fellow national cochairs endorsing at this early stage in a gubernatorial race? “In this global crisis moment that we find ourselves in, having a governor like David will not only be good for Vermont,” Turner says, referencing the coronavirus pandemic and the mass unemployment crisis that has extended from it. “He is a progressive who can inspire activism and action across the country.”
Zuckerman, who has focused on climate issues for many years, has a record as a legislator and more recently as lieutenant governor of taking bold stands on a host of environmental issues. He’s also been outspoken in fights for marriage equality, legalization of marijuana, and GMO labeling.
“Having been active in building progressive politics both inside and outside the Democratic Party, I’ve had an opportunity to see what happens when you have a progressive leader, especially a progressive governor, raising issues and generating policies in a particular state,” says Zuckerman. “I understand that’s one of the reasons people around the country are looking at this race.”
That’s how Khanna sees things, as well. The Sanders campaign cochair argues that Zuckerman “will not only continue fighting for our movement’s goals: economic justice, social justice, racial justice, and environmental justice. He will help young activists around the country believe that they can also run and win with Bernie’s platform as he has done time and again.”