If the only news you ever read came from Twitter, you’d think America was some kind of post-apocalyptic political landscape. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
But it’s not all dystopia. If you travel to Vermont, for example, you’ll find Democrat Christine Hallquist, who won her primary this August and could very well become the country’s first openly trans governor.
It’s a remarkably modern accomplishment, and one — for liberals at least — well worth getting excited about. Just don’t dilute your political high and look at what people tweet at her.
Concentrate on what Hallquist is concentrating on: her agenda. There’s so much to be done.
“They know I can do big things”
Before running for office, 62-year-old Hallquist was a powerful utility executive at the Vermont Electric Cooperative, helping to lead the company’s transition to sustainable energy. She wants to take the lessons she learned as one of Vermont’s most powerful CEOs — “I have a history with Vermonters. They know I can do big things!” she exclaims — and apply them to the people in Vermont who need the biggest things done.
Take, for example, internet connectivity: a norm for urban Vermonters, but a luxury for the rural poor.
“Two thirds of Vermont is rural Vermont. I will connect every home and business with fiber optic cable so it’s the same speed as the big cities,” Hallquist told Mashable. “Nobody is going to come to do business in Vermont if you can’t get connected.”
It’s an expansive promise, but that’s the kind Hallquist needs to make, especially given the strength of her incumbent opponent. She’s running against Phil Scott, a moderate Republican governor with one of the country’s highest approval ratings. Though Vermont is one of the country’s bluest states, “There’s so much money that gets pumped into a state from the Republican governor’s association,” Hallquist says. And that money does things: Republicans now hold 33 governorships in this country.
“People knew Phil for a long time,” she says. “I did too. This is not the Phill Scott we knew. He’s certainly employing the same GOP tactics: Fear. Attacking our education system in the shadow of Betsy DeVos. This wasn’t what we bargained for.”
Here’s what Hallquist hopes to do differently: instate a $15 minimum wage and universal healthcare. End racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Offer tuition-free public college. Work on campaign finance reform. Create a 90% renewable energy supply. Build strong unions. Establish universal primary care.
It should be a popular platform, especially in Vermont, where Trump has his lowest approval ratings. Scott is nonetheless a competitive candidate in Bernie Sanders country, and Hallquist is facing an uphill battle. She’s hoping she can avoid political labels as much as possible, which she claims are used to “divide and oppress people.” By painting “Medicare for all, living wage, and ending homelessness,” as moral values, not partisan ones, Hallquist hopes she can invite more people into the conversation.
“That’s what you call a civilized society,” Hallquist says.
Her statewide pitch could have national appeal.
Leading locally, inspiring nationally — and on Twitter
Like Danica Roem, Virginia’s first openly trans state representative, Hallquist is using more than just her identity to appeal to Vermonters. Roem rose to power partially because of how hard she campaigned on road traffic. Hallquist hopes to build her candidacy on an equally bipartisan, important-but-not-always exciting agenda.
Hallquist isn’t minimizing her identity. She’s just hoping to transcend it.
“People are fed up with the same thing Vermonters are fed up with,” Hallquist says. “That’s why Bernie is so popular …. We need to grow the economy and lift people on the bottom part of the economic ring. This is a universal message. I just happen to be transgender.”
Regardless of her focus, folks in the LGBTQ community can’t help but be excited about an openly trans governor with a national profile, especially at a time when hate crimes against the LGBTQ community have seemingly multiplied.
Hallquist gets the enthusiasm:
“In America, in general, we’re expanding our moral compass,” she explains. “Historically, we’ve been an aspirational country. November 9, 2016, was a temporary bump in America’s moral compass.”
That’s optimistic, yet not without reason: LGBTQ candidates are making record gains in state and local elections, with more than 400 candidates running this year.
For those who accuse Hallquist of playing identity politics, she has this to say:
“The only people who have accused me of identity politics are people who don’t want to see me get elected. All kinds of politicians talk about how they grew up. They talk about he fact they grew up hunting. They tell stories about their life in rural America … As soon as I talk about my life, it’s identity politics.”
“I’m a proud transgender woman,” Hallquist says. “Deal with it.”
Transcending the trolls
Hallquist’s confidence doesn’t stop the trolls from attacking her. The candidate has a Twitter following of more than 8,000 people, not all of them fans, and she’s been hit with a barrage of death threats. When they appear to be specific threats, her campaign reports them to the police. When they’re not, well, they just deal with them.
“Vermont is a loving state and people,” she says. “But we started to see white supremacy in a way we haven’t seen it since 1983,” Hallquist says. “Kaya Moore is one of our great legislators, but she’s not going to run again. She’s a person of color receiving hate mail. Our cocoon of loving Vermont is [being hurt] by those bigwigs from Washington. That’s certainly why I’m running.”
She’s not immune to the trolls herself. She’s just become uniquely adept at fighting them. And Hallquist might be the troll-destroyer her state needs.
“I feel good. I love it when these trolls call me ugly — I’m 62, I’m allowed to be ugly, get over it,” Hallquist recently told Haaretz.
Hallquist knows she could be the country’s first openly trans governor, and she’s not planning on being the country’s last.
“Nationally, there’s always a first,” Hallquist says “Then there’ll be a second, third and fourth … It’s about expanding America’s moral compass … Nothing is impossible when you’re on the side of justice.”