Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) on Monday announced her candidacy for U.S. House, joining Lt. Gov. Molly Gray in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
Balint’s decision ensures Vermonters will have at least two women to choose from — and maybe more — when they vote in 2022 for the next member of the state’s historically all-male congressional delegation.
If she prevails, Balint, 53, would not only be the first woman Vermonters send to Washington, D.C., but also the first openly gay person.
“I’m running because I believe that, even with the challenges of today, we cannot back away from fighting for each other," Balint said in a statement announcing her run. "We have to deliver on some big promises for Vermont working families and that is going to take courage and kindness.”
Balint grew up in Peekskill, N.Y., and graduated from Smith College. She worked as a rock-climbing instructor at a Quaker-inspired summer camp in Plymouth, Vt., where in 2000 she met her future wife, Elizabeth Wohl. The couple settled in Brattleboro in 2007 and have two children.
A former middle school teacher, Balint was first elected to the state Senate in 2014. Last fall, her colleagues elected her to be the first woman president pro tem of the Democrat-dominated chamber, making her arguably the most powerful lawmaker in the state.
In selecting Balint to lead them, her colleagues were effusive in their praise. Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) noted her “warmth, energy and strategic intelligence.”
Balint's statement Monday included endorsements from former state rep Mary Sullivan of Burlington and Curtiss Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity.
"Becca has a track record of getting important things done for all Vermonters," Reed wrote. "She has my unqualified support to serve as our next representative in Congress. Becca leads with courage, empathy, clarity of purpose, and creative problem-solving skills that transcend her lived experience."
Balint, her wife and more than a dozen supporters gathered in Montpelier late Monday morning for a press conference kicking off her run.
During the event, Balint recounted moving into her Brattleboro neighborhood next to a home with an anti-gay “Take Back Vermont” sign in the yard. The slogan was a rallying cry for opponents of the state’s drive to legalize civil unions.
Balint and Wohl were joined in a civil union in 2004 and wed in 2009 when Vermont legalized same-sex marriage.
She put her initial unease over her neighbors’ views aside, however, and the families got to know one another. The offending sign came down, and Balint says the experience taught her not to give up on people.
“I learned then that the hardest fights are sometimes won by being willing to show up, even when it's uncomfortable,” she said.
If voters send her to Washington, Balint said she would fight for a progressive agenda that includes Medicare for all, paid family and medical leave, the Green New Deal, and racial justice legislation.
In an interview after her remarks, Balint said she would also support tighter gun control measures, including an assault weapons ban and universal background checks.
“I feel like we have been absolutely derelict in our duties in protecting Americans from the scourge of gun violence,” she said.
A cascade of Vermont candidates have recently announced runs for Congress in the wake of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) decision last month to not run for reelection next year.
A week after Leahy announced his retirement, Welch said that he would seek Leahy’s Senate seat. Two weeks later, Gray — a former Welch staffer — said she'd run for the U.S. House seat Welch will vacate.
Balint’s candidacy now sets up a potentially significant rivalry within the Vermont Senate. Gray, as lieutenant governor, serves as president of the body, a position that is largely ceremonial. First elected in 2020, Gray has far less political experience than Balint but does hold a statewide office and could benefit from name recognition.
As recently as last week, another member of the state's upper chamber, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden), signaled her intention to run for Congress, though she's yet to formally declare.
Balint on Monday released a campaign video that highlighted her work as a teacher and legislator, her experiences as a gay woman, and referenced her Jewish faith. Her grandfather was murdered during the Holocaust.
"The divisions in Washington are stark — one party is trying to fight for our most vulnerable, and the other is willing to use violence to win," Balint wrote in her statement. "The threat to our democracy is real and it is now. This is the fight of our generation. I’m ready for this fight.”