Super Trooper: Time on 'the Road' Shapes Rep. Nader Hashim's Views | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Super Trooper: Time on 'the Road' Shapes Rep. Nader Hashim's Views

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Nader Hashim - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-brodeur
  • Nader Hashim

Nader Hashim opened a folder and presented a pair of documents to members of the House Government Operations Committee last week. The 30-year-old Vermont State Police trooper explained how cops certified as "drug recognition experts" sniff out drug-impaired drivers.

But instead of his olive green uniform, stiff-brimmed hat, gun and badge, Hashim was dressed in a checkered dark gray suit and flashy red-striped tie. He's a first year Democratic member of the House representing Dummerston and is on unpaid leave from "the road," as he calls police work, to serve as the first active state trooper in the Vermont legislature.

He's quickly developed a reputation as a deep thinker who uses his law enforcement experience to inform his work in Montpelier.

His fellow legislators readily call on him to discuss the realities of policing. When House Gov Ops chair Sarah Copeland Hanzas (D-Bradford) kicked off the April 16 hearing on S.54, which would legalize cannabis sales, she called on Hashim to discuss related highway safety issues.

"I figured ... we could have you explain to us what is the specialized training that a [drug recognition expert] goes through and what would a roadside test for impairment look like," Copeland Hanzas told Hashim.

He testified about the process and answered questions with ease. When committee members asked him about roadside saliva testing for drug impairment, Hashim readily admitted that he doesn't have the answers because state police don't use such tests.

When he's not in the hot seat, Hashim is a quiet presence in the Statehouse. He attends virtually every meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, which he serves on, but he doesn't often speak up. When he does, he tends to share ideas that are far more liberal than — and at odds with — many of his superiors at the state police. He identifies with what he says is a new generation of cops who are more interested in transparency and community than in being part of the proverbial "blue wall of silence."

Rep. Selene Colburn (P/D -Burlington) serves on the Judiciary Committee with Hashim and said his background and straightforward approach make him an ally to progressive causes.

"It's an asset, because he has real experience in the field that's really pragmatic," Colburn said. "He's seen the best and the worst of the system, and he's willing to talk about both."

But does Hashim's law enforcement job also present a conflict of interest? The Judiciary Committee regularly deals with legislation governing the state police. Hashim says his record in the Statehouse proves he's there to represent his constituents.

He sponsored bills that would limit phone fees for inmates, create a grace period for expired vehicle registrations, require a waiting period for gun sales and ban the use of private prison contractors to incarcerate Vermont inmates.

He also cosponsored a bill that would decriminalize unauthorized possession of buprenorphine — a drug prescribed to treat opioid addiction.

"We had a member of command staff come in and testify that the state police is opposed to the decriminalization of buprenorphine," Hashim said. "I am a cosigner of that bill because I believe that bill would save lives, and it's the right step to take because people can't get rehabilitation when they're dead."

Colburn said Hashim impressed her early in the session with his willingness to take the lead on complex issues such as fair and impartial policing, a state law that requires police departments to create policies to protect people of color from discrimination.

"Within a month of being in committee with him, I was like, This is someone who's going to be a really good legislator," she said. "Really smart, really cares about the issues."

Always sporting snappy suits, perfectly combed black hair and thick-framed glasses, Hashim carries his athletic five-foot, seven-inch frame through the Statehouse with a confident air, chatting with anyone who stops him with a question or to pitch an idea.

"He's very thoughtful and introspective," said Rep. Sara Coffey (D-Guilford). She and Hashim both live in Windham County, a few hours' drive from Montpelier, and they're sharing a rental house during the session.

Hashim stands out in a legislature where bald white men outnumber people of color by a wide margin. He was born in Boston in 1988 to an Iranian mother and Sudanese father, both immigrants. They met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his father was a PhD candidate and his mom a kitchen worker.

Nader Hashim - COURTESY OF VERMONT STATE POLICE
  • Courtesy Of Vermont State Police
  • Nader Hashim

"It's kind of a funny cross-class interaction that happened," Hashim said. "My dad was pretty conservative; my mom was super liberal and very upset about the American intervention in Iranian politics. And despite all that, and despite their backgrounds, they somehow managed to kick it off."

Hashim's father joined the U.S. Army, and the family moved around a lot. He attended middle school in suburban Washington, D.C., where one of his best friends was Vietnamese and another was African American. Race wasn't a big deal, he said.

Then came September 11, 2001. Hashim was in seventh grade.

"For me and my family, a lot of things changed after that," he said. Schoolkids started to call him a "terrorist," taunted that he knew Osama bin Laden and spouted "typical racist nonsense," he recalled.

Hashim went to high school in Barrington, R.I., after his father got a job at the U.S. Naval War College in nearby Newport. There, he got into punk — spiked-leather-jacket-and-dyed-Mohawk punk — and found a sense of community in the mosh pits of Providence.

"There's some weird-looking people who are into punk," Hashim said, "but everybody respects each other and treats each other well. And I was drawn to that sense of camaraderie where it doesn't matter where you're from or who you are as long as you treat everybody — no matter what their orientation, gender or race is — as long as you treat them with respect, then you can be part of this group. And that, I was like, That's my style."

Hashim studied political science and international relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. During a visit to Vermont, Hashim said, he felt an instant connection to the Green Mountain State.

"I was just in awe of what the state looked like," Hashim said. "And then visiting Burlington and visiting Brattleboro, I can't really explain it, but something captured me, and I knew that this was the place where I had envisioned living as a kid."

As a junior in college, Hashim said, he developed an interest in racial justice issues and righting the disparities in the criminal justice system.

"I felt that maybe I can make a difference by thinking outside the box and actually going into the system itself to learn about it and find out how it really works, and — not to be cliché and quote Mahatma Ghandi, but, you know — 'Be the change you want to see,'" he said.

His daughter was born his junior year. Hashim and her mother, Jill Johnson, moved in with his mom in Rhode Island and commuted to Worcester to finish their degrees.

Less than two months after he graduated in 2011, Hashim began training at the Vermont Police Academy to become a trooper. Johnson, who took a job teaching in Grafton, Mass., said she and Hashim weren't romantically involved at that point but were committed to co-parenting their daughter.

Hashim would drive down to visit the girl every time he had a couple of days off.

"It was pretty taxing, and he felt like he didn't have the relationship with her that he wanted," Johnson said. In 2014, Johnson moved with their daughter to Vermont. She now lives not far from Hashim, and they are friends.

As Hashim hit the road as a trooper, he encountered the struggles that many Vermonters face as a result of poverty, mental illness and addiction. But he also encountered a strong sense of community that, after moving from place to place in a military family, he valued.

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Hashim decided to run for office, he said, "to push back against the vitriol and the draconian policies" of Trump's administration.

On the campaign trail last year, some of Hashim's volunteers were asked, "'How can you give a voice to a Muslim candidate?'" said Hashim, who is an atheist.

He said he's encountered similar sentiments before but declined to elaborate.

"I have experienced racism and harassment in Vermont," Hashim said. "It's something that I tried addressing, and it's something that I've moved on from, as it happened a few years back."

He sought a position on the Judiciary Committee in order to work on issues at the intersection of criminal justice and race. But Hashim's colleagues say he's wary of becoming the poster child for racial justice.

"He wants to be seen as a legislator who cares deeply about all issues related to access to justice, and he wants all of us to be helping to lift the load on these critically important issues," said Senate Majority Leader Becca Balint (D-Windham). She's known Hashim for years because their daughters are about the same age. "As a person of color, it shouldn't just fall to him."

Hashim has not decided whether he'll return to the state police after the session. He said his daughter, now 9, worries he'll get hurt on the job. Her fears have eased while he has served in the legislature, he said, and his new schedule has made it easier to visit her.

"The fact that I get to see her more and seeing her stress levels come down because I'm safe, that kind of changed my perspective," he said. "Family is No. 1."

Hashim said he's considering offers from a law firm and from the Town of Brattleboro. Whatever he does for work, he said, he won't forget the road.

"Seven years of driving on these back roads and seeing what people are going through, it's burned in my memory," he said. "It's not going anywhere."

Correction, April 24, 2019: Nader Hashim's first name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. 

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