Vermont has never sent a woman to Congress. That could finally change.
Vermont was the first state to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples. The first state legislature to permit recreational use of marijuana. The first state where a major party fielded a transgender candidate for governor. It is also, of course, home to the liberal icon Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an avowed democratic socialist.
Yet by at least one measure, this bastion of liberal politics is at the back of the pack.
Vermont is the only state in the union that has never elected a woman to Congress. Mississippi, the second-last state, reached that milestone four years ago.
That situation — a source of some chagrin here — is poised to change. Becca Balint, a 54-year-old liberal Democrat, is running for Vermont’s lone seat in the House of Representatives in a contest that may make history.
Balint is the heavy favorite in her race in November’s elections. If she wins, as polls indicate, she will break two major barriers: not only will she be the first woman to represent Vermont in Washington, but also the first openly gay person.
On a recent sunny afternoon, Balint walked into a farmers market in Burlington on the shores of Lake Champlain, past a miniature electric-powered food truck and a group giving away free tree saplings.
Balint, a former teacher, said the prospect of being the first woman elected to Congress from Vermont is both exhilarating and daunting. Asked whether liberal politics can coexist with male chauvinism, Balint paused briefly and fixed her gaze on her interviewer. “You’re asking me if there is still sexism?” she said. “Yes, there is.”
The story of why it has taken Vermont so long to reach this moment is an illustration of the hurdles that women still face when entering electoral politics. Some of the obstacles are straightforward — the difficulty of dislodging long-serving incumbents, who are more likely to be men, or the need to take time away from a paying job to mount a campaign, or the obligation for a partner to assume domestic responsibilities.
Vermonters are “very loyal to their incumbents,” said Madeleine Kunin, who served as governor of Vermont from 1985 to 1991, the first and only woman to do so. “We just don’t have that much turnover.”