Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden) at Thursday's kickoff
Updated at 3:50 p.m.
State Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden) has joined the race for U.S. House, becoming the third Democratic woman to launch a run for Vermont’s lone seat in the chamber.
“I'm running for Congress because I plan to be Vermont’s fighter for our working families, our democracy, our climate,” Ram Hinsdale told Seven Days in an interview on Tuesday. “I have a decade-long history in the legislature of dreaming big and delivering, and not walking away from the negotiating table until I've delivered. In this once-in-a-generation moment, I believe that will serve Vermonters and the nation well.”
Ram Hinsdale, 35, joins Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray in the hunt for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat who announced a run for U.S. Senate following Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) retirement announcement in December.
Both seats are up for election in November, but party primaries will be held this August.
Gray launched her bid on December 6; Balint followed suit the following week. Ram Hinsdale had hinted at a run but officially launched it Thursday, with a press conference in Winooski. At the event, she described herself as a "casework candidate," who, in Congress, would "listen to Vermonters and meet their needs every step of the way."
Some of her supporters in attendance, including Winooski state Reps. Hal Colston and Taylor Small, echoed that sentiment. Colston said he first met Ram Hinsdale when she moved to the state to enroll as a student at the University of Vermont.
Rep. Hal Colston (D-Winooski) speaking at the campaign kickoff
"What I've known about her is that she is one of the hardest working politicians I've met," Colston said. "And why does she work hard? Because she's always looking to represent all the voices in our communities across the state. And I think that's why she'll best serve Vermont."
Among her supporters, who were expected to speak at a virtual evening event, are environmentalist Bill McKibben, Essex teacher Jen Ellis — who made Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) infamous mittens — and Rutland Area NAACP founding president Tabitha Moore.
Ram Hinsdale said in an interview that she doesn’t feel like she’s behind in the race, even though both Gray and Balint announced earlier and released impressive fundraising figures in the days after they launched their campaigns.
Eight hours after announcing, Ram Hinsdale's campaign said it had raised nearly $130,000 from all 14 Vermont counties. She also committed to not taking corporate PAC money.
“Vermonters have been reaching out since the dominoes started to fall with the congressional seat and offering their time, talent and treasure to this race,” Ram Hinsdale said. “When it comes to the people power that we have, and the resources that I believe we'll be able to garner, I don't feel behind at all; I feel ready for this fight.”
Ram Hinsdale grew up in southern California, where her “Indian immigrant father and Jewish American mother ran an Irish pub,” she said. Her experiences in her home state inspired her interest in environmental justice.
“Los Angeles can have, you know, beautiful tree-lined streets, and it can have places where it's equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day to breathe the air,” Ram Hinsdale said. But where people lived depended on their class.
A search for cleaner climes led her to Burlington to attend UVM, she said, where she immersed herself in politics and, while still a student, drafted a bill related to environmental justice. Ram Hinsdale said that measure set the framework for S.148, which she introduced last year and is currently before the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
She won election to the Vermont House in 2008 and took office at age 22. She served until 2016, when she ran for lieutenant governor but lost in the Democratic primary. After a political hiatus, Ram Hinsdale ran and won a Senate seat in 2020.
Ram Hinsdale is also a consultant who “does a lot of equity and community building work with school districts, municipalities and nonprofits,” though she said she’ll end the “public-facing” aspects of that job to concentrate on the campaign. She lives in Shelburne with her husband, Jacob Hinsdale.
Ram Hinsdale described the climate crisis and affordable and accessible health care as two major priorities, but noted that abortion and voting rights would be two other areas of her focus on the federal level.
“Those are intertwined in the future of democratic participation and the fundamentals of who is able to have a seat at the table in a representative democracy,” she said.
Ram Hinsdale was one of the founding members of Emerge Vermont, a group that trains Democratic women to run for office, and said she’s made it a mission to encourage people to take that step. She recently helped launch the Bright Leadership Institute, an organization that helps train Black, Indigenous and people of color to run for office.
Ram Hinsdale noted that she was sworn in as the first woman of color to serve in the Vermont Senate on January 6, 2021, the same day of the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
“I am trying to help change the conversation in Vermont about who looks like a Vermonter and who looks like a Vermont leader,” Ram Hinsdale said. “And this felt like a meaningful next step to advance that conversation. So Vermont could reengage on the national stage with this open seat [by] taking this moment and turning it into a movement.”