Whether or not Christine Hallquist wins election in November to be Vermont’s governor, her campaign has made history.
Hallquist is the first openly transgender woman to run for governor in the United States – a remarkable change for a woman who just a few years ago, when she was still living as a man named Dave, was terrified of letting anyone know about her gender dysphoria.
“I was sure when I transitioned, I'd end up sleeping in a gutter somewhere,” Hallquist told Politico.
But the former CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative, rather, was greeted with overwhelming acceptance. So much so that she began to think about a gubernatorial run.
Hallquist is just the third openly transgender candidate in U.S. history to run for a statewide office – along with Kim Coco Iwamoto in Hawaii and Wikileaks leaker Chelsea Manning, who recently lost a Maryland Senate primary.
It wasn’t until the 1990s and early 2000s that transgender candidates began appearing on ballots across the country. Iwamoto became the first transgender person to win statewide office after getting elected to Hawaii’s board of education in 2006.
Yet for all the talk nationally about Hallquist’s gender transition, it’s her transition from CEO to politician that has become the biggest campaign issue in the Green Mountain State -- as she touts her turnaround of the electric co-op as an example for how she would reverse Vermont’s rural decline and combat climate change.
“It will be irrelevant in Vermont,” former Gov. Howard Dean told Politico about Hallquist’s gender identity.
Hallquist is touting a plan to lay high-speed, fiber optic cable across the state and create a path for a universal health care system -- and supports numerous progressive causes, including a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave.
But Hallquist is far from a shoo-in for the governorship.
A recent poll conducted by Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS found that none of the Democratic primary candidates had high name recognition, though Hallquist fared better than her rivals: Lake Champlain International executive director James Ehlers, Southern Vermont Dance Festival director Brenda Siegel, and – yes, you read that correctly – 14-year-old Ethan Sonneborn.
But if she makes it through the primary, it's an uphill climb in November. Vermont is one of several New England states with a Republican governor seen as having a solid shot at re-election.
Republican incumbent Gov. Phil Scott has recently seen approval ratings drop, but he still enjoys a sizeable lead over his Democratic rivals and his one Republican challenger -- grocer Keith Stern. Most race rankings, including those by Fox News, list the race as likely Republican.
Hallquist, who voted for Scott in 2016, recently sent out a fundraising email going after Scott’s declining approval ratings that said: “Gov. Phil Scott's (R-Vermont) approval falls far amid re-election run…I had to make sure you saw it."
Vermont has made history before on gay and transgender issues. It was the first to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples in civil unions and first to legalize same-sex marriage in the statehouse as opposed to through a court ruling.