Christine Hallquist made history on Tuesday night, when she won the Democratic nomination for governor of Vermont, a victory that made her the first transgender candidate selected by a major party to bid for an American governorship. Hallquist also won as a visionary progressive who sees Vermont as “a beacon of hope for the rest of the country” that can serve as an innovative laboratory of democracy for a country that needs a new politics.
To that end, along with other high-profile primary winners on Tuesday such as congressional candidates Randy Bryce in Wisconsin and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota, Hallquist ran as a Justice Democrat, committed to health care for all, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, investing in tuition-free college, and a making renewable-energy investments to address climate change.
“I’m a proud and out transgendered leader,” says Hallquist, who swept to victory in a four-way primary with almost 50 percent of the vote. That win positioned her as a serious contender to be the nation’s first transgender governor. Before the primary, Hallquist acknowledged that “For some Vermonters, I think my being transgender may be an issue. I think it’s going to be a small minority. I think Vermonters are going to vote for me because of what I’m going to do for Vermont.”
The primary results signaled that Hallquist was right to be confident. She carried urban and rural regions of the state and earned high praise from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who tweeted:
Congratulations to @christineforvt for her Democratic primary win for Governor of Vermont tonight. Let’s continue making history and win this November!
—Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 15, 2018
A veteran of the cooperative movement who served for many years as CEO of the Vermont Electric Coop, which she helped transform into a leader in using renewable sources of electricity production to combat climate change, Hallquist was not active in partisan politics until after the 2016 election.
“November 9, 2016, changed everything for me. America elected Trump and Vermont elected a Republican governor because he was a ‘nice guy,’” Hallquist told the New England LGBTQ newspaper Rainbow Times after launching her bid earlier this year.
“I knew right away Donald Trump would attack the LGBT community as he simply does not like anyone who is different than him. I was depressed for a few months and then joined 650,000 for the Women’s March in DC the day after Trump’s inauguration. I then went to DC for the climate march. I did a lot of marching over the next year. However, things have only gone from bad to worse. In January of this year, I made a decision. It was similar to decisions made by generations before me. I would give up everything for our future.”
Now, Hallquist will face Governor Phil Scott, a Republican who has tried to position himself as a somewhat more moderate figure than many national Republicans. Though Vermont sends an old-school liberal Democrat, Patrick Leahy, and a democratic socialist, Sanders, to the Senate, the state has a long history of competitive races for the governorship, many of which have been won by Republicans. So Hallquist faces a serious race, with no guarantees but lots of possibilities.
A recent Morning Consult “Governor Approval Rankings” survey reported on “bad news for one of those governors: Phil Scott of Vermont.”
“The first-term governor, who was elected in 2016 and is facing a primary challenge, saw his stock plummet between the first and second quarters of the year. His approval among Vermonters fell 18 points to 47 percent while his disapproval doubled to 42 percent,” explained a review of the survey results, which noted that this “net 38 point drop is the biggest quarterly shift since Morning Consult began polling the subject in May 2016.”
Scott’s dwindling numbers will help to draw national media attention to the Vermont race. There will much discussion of Hallquist’s history-making bid. “Obviously, nationwide it’s significant, the first transgender governor,” she says, “It is pioneering.” But the Democratic nominee suggests that “Vermonters are going to elect me on the platform.”
The platform is strikingly progressive in its focus on specifics, with proposals to “Address racial disparities in Vermont’s criminal justice system,” “Protect collective bargaining and worker rights,” “Finish progress made on marijuana legalization by taxing and regulating,” and “Connect every home and business in Vermont with fiber optic cable utilizing proven rural cooperative models.” Hallquist is also determined to resist “the negative headwinds from Washington through bold leadership and vision.”
Like many of the savviest progressives who are running this year, Hallquist recognizes that the point is not merely to oppose Donald Trump—though that’s important—but also to present an alternative vision. So it is that this proud Town Meeting Day moderator from Hyde Park (population 2,954, according to the 2000 Census) offers a vision for assuring that—no matter what happens in Washington—Vermont will be “the little state that can show the rest of the country how well democracy can work.”