BURLINGTON, Vt. — Six months ago, Christine Hallquist was leading one of Vermont’s rural electric cooperatives, her transgender status causing nary a ripple as she took part in policy debates about renewable energy and the reliability of the electric grid.
Now, after winning Vermont’s Democratic nomination to run for governor, she’s basking in the glow of her status as the nation’s first transgender political candidate to win a major-party gubernatorial nomination.
She’s got a lot to learn, and a lot of money to raise. Hallquist knows that to defeat incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott, she’s going to have to explain to Vermonters how she can do a better job of developing the state’s rural economy, ensuring people have access to health care and quality education.
But she recognizes the symbolism of her candidacy and her victory in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, Aug. 14.
“The whole world is looking at this as a historic moment for a transgender candidate, but that’s not what Vermont looked at,” Hallquist, 62, said shortly after clinching the nomination. “Vermonters looked at, ‘What’s Christine and her team going to do for Vermont?'”
In the Republican primary, Scott survived a bitter backlash from his base, upset that he signed into law a package of gun control restrictions he pushed for in the aftermath of what Vermont officials called a near-miss school shooting. Scott said he expected the race, which he won by more than 30 percentage points, to be closer than it was.
The Republican Governor’s Association, through a political action committee, has already committed $1 million to Scott’s re-election campaign.
Hallquist said last week that if she won, one of her first chores would be to begin raising money. She’s already gotten a big boost from the Victory Fund, a political action committee that backs LGBTQ candidates. The organization calls Hallquist a “game changer,” and its connection with her could prompt its supporters to donate to her campaign.
“Many thought it unthinkable a viable trans gubernatorial candidate like Christine would emerge so soon,” said Annise Parker, president of the Victory Fund. “Yet Vermont voters chose Christine not because of her gender identity but because she is an open and authentic candidate with a long history of service to the state and who speaks to the issues most important to voters.”
Roughly 400 LGBTQ candidates will be on the November ballot across the country for state and federal office, the most ever, according to the Victory Fund. They include Alexandra Chandler, a Democrat and Massachusetts’ first openly transgender candidate for Congress.
In Vermont, home to independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and the first state to recognize same-sex unions with its landmark 2000 civil unions law — a precursor to gay marriage — Hallquist’s gender is not expected to be an issue.
The last time Vermont voters ousted a sitting governor was in 1962. And typically Scott could have been almost assured re-election.
“In order for her to win, she needs to make the case that Phil Scott has been a failed governor in his first two years in office as governor,” Middlebury College political science professor emeritus Eric Davis. “He will claim that he has pushed back against Democratic proposals to raise taxes and fees, and that the state’s economy is in better shape today than it was two years ago.”
But, as in much of the country, politics are different this year. Scott’s once sky-high popularity has waned, potentially leaving an opening for a well-funded Democratic challenger.
Hallquist moved to Vermont in 1976. In 1998, well before her transition, she went to work for the Vermont Electric Co-operative, becoming CEO in 2005. She was so open about her 2015 transition, she allowed news organizations to chronicle the change.
She quit her job at the co-op earlier this year so she could run for governor and represent the interests of rural Vermonters, something she feels Scott has been ignoring.
“Vermonters are going to elect me on the platform,” she told The Associated Press. “They are not going to elect me because of the fact that I’m transgender — that’s the reality.”