Christine Hallquist won her Democratic primary race in Vermont on Tuesday, becoming the first openly transgender candidate nominated for governor by a major party in the United States.
“Tonight we made history,” Hallquist, 62, told supporters during a victory speech. “I’m so honored to be part of this historical moment.”
“This is a national movement and we’re part of that movement,” she said later in the speech. “In the physics world we have this saying . . . for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. This is a reaction to 2016.”
Hallquist’s primary win means she could become the nation’s first transgender governor. Her opponent, Republican Gov. Phil Scott, remains popular in the state, even among Democrats. He has signaled a willingness to work with Democrats on issues like gun control legislation, which he signed in April.
Hallquist, a first-time candidate and the former CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, won her primary in a crowded field of four Democrats, including an environmental activist, a dance festival organizer and a 14-year-old boy. She is part of a progressive wave of political novices, women and LGBTQ candidates running in this year’s midterm elections, many of them galvanized by the election and behavior of President Trump. Transgender women in particular are running for office in record numbers this year, according to the Victory Fund, an organization that helps elect LGBTQ candidates.
Growing up in Upstate New York and going to Catholic school, Hallquist always felt like she was a girl, she told Seven Days, a Vermont alternative weekly. She took up competitive running and skiing but secretly collected women’s clothes in her closet. She moved to Vermont in 1976, and pursued a career in engineering. She joined Vermont Electric Cooperative, which provides power to parts of the state, in 1998 and became CEO in 2005.
She came out as a woman to her wife, Pat, early in their marriage, and opened up to their three children about eight years ago. Then, in 2015, when she was CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, she started publicly identifying as a woman. Local news outlets documented her transition, and she drew national attention as a pioneering example of a business CEO transitioning while in office.
At an energy conference in October 2015, she reintroduced herself to acquaintances in the industry. “You probably remember me as David,” Hallquist said, shaking hands with an environmental activist at the conference, according to Seven Days.
She feared what kind of reactions she would get from members of her board but said she was fully supported across the company and industry.
She continued to serve as CEO of the co-op until earlier this year, when she resigned to run for office. Hallquist decided she wanted to run after attending the Women’s March in Vermont. She heard four young Muslim women talk about the challenges they faced, and Hallquist started crying, she said.
She realized that “our lovely cocoon in Vermont has been pierced by the hatred coming out of Washington,” she told The Washington Post. “Coming from a marginalized community myself, that really hit me hard.”
Her victory Tuesday night, she said, is a testament to Vermont, a historically progressive state that was the first to recognize same-sex unions.
Hallquist touts Vermont Electric Cooperative’s “carbon free” track record and wants to make Vermont almost entirely reliant on renewable energy. But some have raised questions about how far her commitment to renewable energy went while at the co-op.
Like many progressives running in this cycle, Hallquist supports Medicare-for-all, the health-care policy championed by fellow Vermonter Sen. Bernie Sanders (I). If elected, she also wants to combat climate change, expand rural Vermont’s infrastructure and improve equality in the state’s public education system.
The general election won’t be an easy win, and Hallquist knows that. No incumbent governor has been unseated in Vermont since 1962.
Her team will have to “double down” leading up to November, she said. Hallquist had raised about $132,000 by mid-July, according to the Associated Press, but said this week she was giving back about $16,000 in corporate donations. Scott had raised about $177,000 by mid-July, but a PAC backed by the Republican Governors Association had raised more than $1 million to support Scott, the AP reported.
Victory Fund called Hallquist’s primary success a “defining moment in the movement for trans equality.”
“Many thought it unthinkable a viable trans gubernatorial candidate like Christine would emerge so soon,” the group said in a statement. “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.”
Ilhan Omar, a first-term state legislator, won the Democratic nomination for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District. It’s a safe Democratic seat, The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reports. If Omar wins, she’ll take over from Rep. Keith Ellison (D), who has held the seat for 12 years. Ellison, who was recently accused of domestic abuse, won the Democratic nomination for Minnesota attorney general on Tuesday night.
Omar joins Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib in a history-making moment: If they win their general election races as expected, they will become the first Muslim women in Congress.
Sen. Tina Smith won the Democratic nomination to serve the rest of former senator Al Franken’s term. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) appointed Smith to Franken’s seat after he resigned last year.
Jahana Hayes, a teacher first-time candidate, won the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), who announced she’d retire at the end of the current term. Esty failed to confront a former aide when she found out he was sexually harassing another staffer.