Vermont will elect the state’s first woman to Congress

MONTPELIER, Vermont — With a rare openness this fall in its congressional delegation, Vermont looks set to lose its distinction as the only state that has never had a woman represent it in Washington.

Three women, including Lt. Governor Molly Gray and Senate Pro Tempore Speaker Becca Balint, are among the Democrats competing in the Aug. 9 primary for the seat vacated by the lone U.S. House member, Democrat Peter Welch, who is trying to advance to the Senate. The two Republican candidates registered to run in the midterm elections are also women.

Given Vermont’s liberal reputation, it might seem strange that it was the last state to send a woman to Congress. But Vermont’s small population makes it one of the few states with the smallest congressional delegation possible — two senators and one House member. And like many states, Vermont has traditionally re-elected its incumbents, who turned out to be white men who ended up serving for extraordinarily long periods. That includes Democrat Patrick Leahy, who was first elected in 1974 and is the fourth longest-serving senator in history.

“It’s a leadership bottleneck,” said Elaine Haney, executive director of Emerge Vermont, an organization that works to prepare women to run for office. “And so, when someone hangs on to all of that for a very long time, it prevents everyone from having opportunities.”′

Last November, Leahy announced he would retire after eight terms. Within days, Welch said he would seek a Senate appointment, leaving the House seat vacant for the first time since 2006, when Welch succeeded the current senator. Bernie Sanders. Sanders has been on the congressional delegation since 1991.

Haney, whose organization has helped train some of the female House candidates on how to campaign, noted that women bring a different experience than men to elected office. It matters, she said, on issues like abortion rights, a topic highlighted by a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe decision. v. Wade legalizing abortion.

“I strongly believe – and I think a lot of other people strongly believe – that if women, Democratic women, were actually at the table, these kinds of threatening situations wouldn’t happen, because lived experiences by women would be at the center of discussion and politics,” she said.

Democratic candidates support abortion rights. A referendum on the ballot in Vermont in November would enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution, the first such amendment in the country. The state also has a law protecting a woman’s right to abortion.

“We need leaders going to Washington who unequivocally make sure Roe v. Wade is codified federally, and I know that’s a top priority for (Democratic) women in this race,” said Grey.

Welch was also a strong proponent of abortion rights and called on Congress to codify abortion rights. He believes that electing a woman as successor will encourage more young people to run for office.

“This is a time when everyone is on deck and I couldn’t be more excited for our state that these women have stepped up to take on the challenge,” Welch said in a statement. “Each of the candidates is unique and incredibly talented and I know they will use their experience to work hard for Vermonters in Congress if elected.”

Vermont remains an outlier at a time when the number of women serving in Washington is increasing. Montana in 1916 made Representative Jeannette Rankin the first woman elected to Congress, four years before the 19th Amendment secured women’s constitutional suffrage.

Since then, nearly 400 women have served as United States Representatives, Delegates, Resident Commissioners or Senators,

In 2018, Vermont became the last state without female representation in Congress when Mississippi Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith was nominated to the Senate.

Women seeking the Democratic nomination in Vermont’s House race have not focused their campaigns on the possibility of one of them being the state’s first woman elected to Congress. Instead, they promise to seek solutions to bolster the workforce, alleviate the state’s affordable housing problem and tackle the climate crisis, among other central party priorities.

“They’re just not that far apart on a lot of those issues, and I think the election is going to come down to other things, such as temperament and experience issues and, frankly, name recognition. “said Matthew Dickinson, a politician. science professor at Middlebury College.

Gray, the lieutenant governor, was elected in 2020 in her first run for political office. She is a lawyer and former Assistant State Attorney General.

Balint served in the state Senate for eight years, including six years in leadership positions, the last two as interim president. She was previously a middle school teacher.

A third Democratic candidate, Sianay Chase Clifford, is an Essex social worker who previously worked in Washington for Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.

Candidates could also make history in other ways. If elected, Balint would be the first openly gay person to represent Vermont in Congress, while Chase Clifford would be the first person of color to represent the state in Washington.

The GOP candidates listed to run for the House seat are accountant Ericka Redic, who lost a 2020 state Senate race, and Anya Tynio, who ran for the U.S. House in 2018 and lost.

Redic says she will focus on tackling inflation, illegal immigration, drug abuse and government overreach, especially when it comes to vaccination mandates. Tynio has stated on her website that she is a supporter of the Second Amendment, a supporter of strong border security, and in favor of implementing legislation that would reduce inflation, reduce the national debt, and balance the budget.

Two men, a Brattleboro independent and a South Burlington doctor as a Democrat, are also running for the House seat, but neither has reported raising any money.

Although this fall’s election will likely shatter Vermont’s glass ceiling, it’s likely the state will have more openings in the coming years.

Sanders, an independent, is 80 and faces re-election in 2024. Welch is 75.

Haney said she would like to see all elected offices in Vermont held by women.

“We have normalized male leadership throughout our history. And we’re so used to seeing nobody but responsible men, and we think, ‘Oh, that’s okay,’ she said. “There’s nothing wrong with all women being in charge, and that’s what I want to see.”


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