Vermont expected to send state’s first woman to Congress

The Green Mountain state is the only remaining U.S. state that has never elected a woman to federal office.

by Farah Lindsey-Almadani | 1/7/22 5:00am

Source: Photo by GearedBull at English Wikipedia. No changes made. License:

Barring a major upset, Vermont’s sole seat in the House of Representatives appears likely to be filled by a woman in the next Congress. Whoever is elected to the seat will replace current Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, who is running to replace Sen. Patrick Leahy, also a Democrat, as he retires after nearly half a century in office. The 2022 election would, then, mark the first time the state has ever sent a woman to Congress and end its status as the last state in the country to have never done so.

Vermont Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and state Senate president Becca Balint, both Democrats, and Republican candidate and businessperson Marcia Horne have announced their intentions to run to fill Welch’s seat. All three did not respond to requests for comment.

Horne, a marketing consultant and the sole Republican running so far, opposed representative Welch in the 2020 election as an independent, according to the Boston Globe.

Gray, a human rights attorney and native Vermonter, was raised on a farm in South Newbury, according to her campaign website. After graduating from the University of Vermont, Gray interned for Leahy and later worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

According to the campaign website, Gray is running “because the challenges [Vermonters] face — from our workforce shortages to our child care crisis — won’t be solved by [the state] alone.”

Balint, another Democratic candidate, made state history in 2014 by becoming Vermont’s first female and first openly gay president pro tempore.

The impetus for Balint’s campaign is that “together [Vermonters] have to deliver on some big promises for Vermont’s working families, and that is going to take courage and kindness,” according to Balint’s website. 

Another potential Democratic contender for the congressional seat is Vermont state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, who has not yet confirmed her intention to run. 

“For the decade I’ve served in the House and Senate, it’s been about what I can do for people, not what title I hold,” Hinsdale wrote in an emailed statement. 

“These are complex challenges that require collaborative, national solutions, and I have an extensive track record of addressing these challenges head on,” she wrote. “You’ll be hearing from me soon!”

Both Gray and Balint are alumni of Emerge Vermont — a local chapter of the nationwide Emerge program, an organization that trains and supports female politicians in their campaign endeavors, according to its national website. Emerge Vermont executive director Elaine Haney called Gray and Balint “trendsetters.” 

She noted two reasons that she believes explain why the state has yet to send a woman to Washington: Vermont’s small population means that few seats open up on a regular basis, and women often have familial responsibilities that prevent them from running a successful campaign. 

Vermont Democratic Party communications director Asha Carroll said that sexism may have also prevented Vermont from sending a woman to Washington.

“I think it’s for similar reasons that we have not yet seen a female president,” Carroll said. “For whatever reason, I think it’s a gender [inequality] to overcome.”

Carroll said that the party will not endorse any candidate until after the first congressional primary on Aug. 9. 

Students also reacted to the prospect of Vermont electing a woman to Congress. Selina Noor ’22, who serves as the public relations and membership director of the Dartmouth Political Union, said she had discussed the race with other DPU leaders. 

“[The DPU executives] were also talking about … the long-standing bias against anyone, other than white men, who hold office in Vermont,” Noor said. “In the 2018 gubernational race, Christine Hallquist [a Democrat] was defeated, and she would have been Vermont’s first female governor and first transgender governor in the country.”

She also added that representation is key in encouraging women to run for office. 

“When women start seeing results, … [women] will start to come out of the bubble and be more engaged,” Noor said.

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