Adam Caira / Staff FILE Photo
Cassandra Gekas poses in her Montpelier apartment earlier this year with some of her favorite books. Gekas, who spends most of her time reading and working, is particularly passionate about Health Care.
BURLINGTON — Standing before a small crowd of many of the same elected officials she spent the last two years lobbying, Cassandra Gekas on Thursday formally launched her campaign for lieutenant governor.
The former health care advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group said the single-payer system she championed in the Statehouse will also be a cornerstone of her political pursuits.
Whether it's reforming health care, fighting for women's issues, expanding public transportation or increasing renewable energy development, Gekas said, her history as an advocate and her future as a politician “boils down to two important points.”
“One is to build stronger communities, and the other is to be a voice for those whose hopes and dreams and fears so often go unheard,” Gekas said at Main Street Landing near Burlington's waterfront. “I choose to be a voice for the voiceless because I know that this is what matters. And honestly, if I'm not the underdog, I think I'm doing something wrong.”
Gekas, running as both a Progressive and Democrat, certainly is the underdog. She announced this surprise candidacy hours before the candidate filing deadline in June. According to campaign finance disclosures filed Wednesday, she faces a four-to-one fundraising deficit against popular Republican incumbent Phil Scott.
She nonetheless won a vote of confidence from Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday, who introduced the 30-year-old political newcomer as “the next lieutenant governor of the state of Vermont.”
“This is a tough race but a winnable race,” said Shumlin.
He said Gekas' relative youth and her gender set her apart from the usual slate of statewide offerings.
“This is what (statewide officeholders) have in common: We are aging, wrinkled, white men. It's the truth,” Shumlin said. “The excellent thing about this candidacy is we finally have a dynamic, bright, committed woman under 35 who wants to be a leader for the future of the state of Vermont.”
Sen. Anthony Pollina, a Washington County Progressive/Democrat, said Gekas is in a unique position to engage a demographic that some people worry Vermont risks alienating.
“There seem to be a lot of people in Vermont worried about younger people leaving Vermont,” Pollina said. “We need to give them policymakers like Cassandra Gekas who are willing to work with those young people that not just allow them to stay here but make them eager to stay here.”
The gathering drew about 50 people, mostly elected officials and party insiders.
While Scott may be a “nice guy,” Gekas said, Vermonters need to rethink their relationship with the lieutenant governor. With a Democratic governor pushing single-payer health care reform and a Legislature controlled overwhelmingly by Democrats, she said, voters risk undoing years of work by putting a Republican “a heartbeat away” from the state's top elected post.
On the issue of single-payer especially, Gekas said, Vermonters need someone who will pick up where Shumlin left off, if he dies.
“We have seen some of the most extreme members of the Republican Party come to visit here, and that means something,” Gekas said. “Vermonters should feel confident their lieutenant governor shares their goals and vision and values.”
Melinda Moulton, one of several speakers Thursday, said the GOP ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would “end funding for Planned Parenthood, overturn Roe v. Wade,” restrict women's access to contraception and repeal the federal Affordable Care Act.
“Phil Scott is a member of the Republican Party,” said Moulton, CEO of the Main Street Landing Co. and former head of the Vermont Retailers Association. “What portions of the GOP platform does Phil Scott stand behind?”
As it turns out, Scott said, not the portions that concern Moulton and Gekas the most. Though he received an endorsement from Vermont Right to Life in 2010, Scott on Thursday said he's pro-choice.
“I always have been,” Scott said. “So I'm not sure where that criticism comes from.”
Now that it's been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Scott said he also supports the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“It's probably not a particularly popular viewpoint from a Republican standpoint, but I feel … we should give it a chance to work,” he said.
As to single payer, Scott said he isn't necessarily opposed to the concept but that no one has demonstrated to him that it would save money or improve care. Anyway, Scott said, him being governor wouldn't be the death knell for single payer.
“The governor isn't the king,” Scott said. “The governor is just a part of the process. And the Legislature has an awful lot to say about what happens and what doesn't.”
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