This is the first in a two-part series examining the two major-party political candidates in Vermont’s gubernatorial race this year.
Christine Hallquist, the Democratic candidate for governor of Vermont, may check a lot of liberal boxes for Green Mountain State voters: The election of Donald Trump was a turning point, her direct inspiration for running was the harassment of Muslim girls in Vermont and, if elected, she would be the first transgender governor in America.
She also started a discussion on Sept. 23 with the editorial board of the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus by touting her commitment to environmental issues.
“My passion in life was to solve climate change. It started in 2004 when I went to a three-day conference to listen to the inter-governmental climate change committee issue its report on what carbon was doing to our planet. ... At the time I was the engineering operations manager for Vermont Electrical Cooperative, and I realized the electric grid is going to be the key to solving climate change,” she said.
But as a former executive with the Vermont Electric Cooperative, Hallquist said, she is also fiscally conservative and supports “common sense” gun laws that she says wouldn’t affect hunters or anyone who doesn’t own assault weapons.
“I would say Nov. 9, 2016, changed everything for me,” she said, referring to the election of Trump.
Hallquist said she went into a “political depression.” She said she spent the next year going to many marches including the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and a youth march in Vermont on Jan. 20.
Hallquist said she was concerned about seeing “white supremacist activity” in Vermont in late 2017 but after hearing four high school seniors discuss the harassment they endured for being Muslim in Vermont, she made the decision to run for governor.
Hallquist said the last 10 years she spent on the technical advisory committee for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association convinced her the key to economic development in Vermont was connecting all Vermont homes to the internet with fiber-optic cables so they will have the same internet speed as cities.
She said she believed Vermont towns could rebuild downtowns with tax-increment financing like St. Albans and White River Junction had done.
Hallquist said she would continue to work toward Medicare for all by forming a union with other states to give Vermont greater leverage to negotiate health costs, and said she was commited to keeping rural schools open.
While Hallquist acknowledged that Gov. Phil Scott spoke often about affordability, she believed he was promoting a Vermont that was only affordable for the rich.
“A good leader has a plan to increase revenue. A good leader talks about how we’re going to grow Vermont. … Vermont can grow its economy. I’m talking about putting more food on the table, rather than just fighting over the scraps,” she said.
Addressing the opioid crisis in Vermont, Hallquist said the “War on Drugs” hasn’t worked. She said she was inspired, however, by some of the proactive approaches taken by the Howard Center in Burlington including the needle exchange program, which had once been controversial.
“The higher-level lesson from that is, we leaned into our discomfort and found a better answer. So I think we should keep leaning and look at harm reduction sites and housing first models,” she said.
A harm reduction site would provide a safer place for addicts to inject illegal drugs. A housing first model would provide a place for addicts to live.
Both approaches start with the assumption that drug addicts are going to use drugs, and new approaches are needed to get people with an opiate dependence to transition to a substance-free lifestyle safely.
Hallquist said she thinks Vermonters are excited about the November elections.
“The young people are fired up, and I tell the young people this, ‘My generation screwed this up. I still have time to fix it before I leave this planet, but I’m fixing it for you, the young generation,’” she said.
While campaigning, Hallquist said she’s hearing the same concerns.
“Ninety percent of Vermonters, I don’t care what your party is, the concern is the same. Can my kids live here? Is my job going to be here? … Can I retire and live in my home because I’m on a fixed income?” she said.
Hallquist said she’s optimistic about the state’s economic future.
“Vermont’s got a lot of things that’ll attract people to it and we’re only two-tenths of 1 percent of the national population so it doesn’t take much to grow our economy,” she said.
Hallquist said her commitment to the Democratic Party was partially personal.
“There’s no way anybody from the LGBT community would be a Republican right now. ... I know there are some, they have these Log Cabin Republicans, but I got a question. You must like abuse. Because the Republican party, on the platform of the last election, condemned the LGBT community, of course,” she said.
But she added it was also her way of rejecting what she called the “politics of division.”
“The Democratic Party is clearly a party that’s trying to represent all communities,” she said. “I think when they talk about the American aspiration of equal opportunity and justice for all, I think the Democratic Party is working toward that. I see the Republican party moving away from that. It’s the party of division right now.”
Hallquist made the transition to become a woman on Dec. 2, 2015.
“All through my life, I had this deep secret. I always knew I was different. I was going to keep that secret to my grave, but in my late 40s, I started to feel very, very guilty that I had raised three wonderful Vermonters, my children, just brilliant kids, just a wonderful family but they didn’t know the most important truth about me. I decided I couldn’t go to my grave with them not knowing that truth,” she said.