In a historic moment, Christine Hallquist won the Democratic nomination Tuesday to run to become the next Vermont governor, making her the first transgender candidate ever to obtain a major party nomination in a gubernatorial race.
The Associated Press declared Hallquist, former CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative, won the Democratic Party in Vermont at 9:14 pm shortly after polls closed at 7 pm. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Hallquist obtained 48 percent of the vote, compared to 22 percent for environmental activist James Ehlers, 21 percent for progressive activist Brenda Siege and 8 percent high school student Ethan Sonneborn. (Vermont has no age requirement for candidates.)
Should Hallquist succeed in the general election in November, she’d be the first openly transgender people elected as governor in the United States.
In a statement to the Washington Blade in May, Hallquist said her win in November would be a “positive signal for all LGBTQ people” because she would be the first transgender governor and represent a rural state.
“Typically, rural communities have been viewed as less affirming,” Hallquist said. “Marginalized communities have historically had problems with winning executive positions. For too long leadership has been associated with masculinity and the dominant culture. Vermonters choosing me, a trans-woman, as their governor, would expand the realm of possibility for generations to come. My success would mark a new milestone in acceptance.”
Hallquist was endorsed by LGBT rights groups, including the LGBTQ Victory Fund and the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund.
Annise Parker, CEO of the Victory Fund, said in a statement Hallquist’s victory is “a defining moment in the movement for trans equality” at a time when few transgender officials are in government.
“Many thought it unthinkable a viable trans gubernatorial candidate like Christine would emerge so soon,” Parker said. “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.”
According to the Victory Fund, 13 openly trans people are serving in elected office in the United States. The Victory Fund has endorsed seven transgender candidates this election cycle.
Another transgender candidate seeking statewide office this year was Kim Coco Iwamoto in Hawaii. A former member of the Hawaii Board of Education, Iwamoto sought the Democratic nomination to run for lieutenant governor, but came up short in the primary on Saturday.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund, said in Hallquist’s victory “cannot be overstated.”
“Our mission as an organization is deeply rooted in bringing transgender people into the center of society, and Christine’s nomination is a massive step forward in that fight,” Keisling said.
Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez also commended Hallquist in a statement, calling her win an “inspiration to LGBTQ people everywhere.”
“We are excited to stand behind her and the entire slate of fantastic Democratic nominees in Vermont,” Hallquist said. “There’s no doubt that Christine and her fellow nominees will join a strong ticket this November that will fight for our values and serve as dedicated advocates for Vermont’s working families. Vermont voters know that Democrats have their backs and share their values, and they’re ready to organize to turn more seats blue this November.”
Hallquist’s Republican opponent in the general election will be incumbent Gov. Phil Scott. A moderate who signed into law gun control legislation, Scott faced a challenge from conservative candidate, but came out on top in the primary.
Political observers say Hallquist faces an uphill battle in the general election against the incumbent Republican. The Cook Political Report, Inside Elections Nathan L. Gonzales and have each rated the race either solid or safe Republican.
Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, called Hallquist’s win “a historic breakthrough” and predicted she’ll be the focus of tremendous media attention, but said the road ahead is difficult.
“On the one hand, Vermont is clearly liberal, except on guns,” Sabato said. “On the other, it’s going to be very tough to beat Gov. Phil Scott, who is one of three moderate GOP governors leading in blue states this year (Massachusetts and Maryland are the other two). For Hallquist to win, Scott will have to make some big mistakes, or there would have to be the ‘blue’ wave tsunami that Democrats hope is coming.”
Despite the challenge Hallquist faces in the general election, it should be noted she obtained more voters in the Vermont primary than her Republican opponent. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Hallquist obtained 27,381 votes compared to the 23,857 votes Scott won.
Hallquist is one of four LGBT candidates who’ve obtained the Democratic nomination to run for governor in Election 2018. The other three are Rep. Jared Polis in Colorado and former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez in Texas, who could be the first openly gay people elected governor in the United States, as well as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who’s bisexual and seeking re-election.