Becca Balint on her win in the Democratic primary for U.S. House
State Sen. Becca Balint is fresh off a decisive win in the Democratic primary for Vermont’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
She’ll face Iraq veteran turned anti-war activist Liam Madden in the general election. Balint is hoping to become the first woman and openly gay person to represent Vermont in Congress.
Vermont Public’s Mikaela Lefrak spoke with Balint to get her reflections on her primary campaign, and what’s ahead in the general election. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mikaela Lefrak: First off, congratulations on this win. How are you feeling this morning?
Becca Balint: I'm feeling so good, also so tired. We have been working hard at this since December, and I'm just, honestly, I'm just so proud of the work that my team did. And … all the volunteers, all the field staff, and it hasn't quite sunk in yet.
It is a huge, huge win for me and the team. And I think, you know, when I get a little bit more sleep, I'm going to be able to really reflect on everything that we've done. But yeah, it feels good today.
Now you are poised to become not only the first woman but the first openly gay person to represent Vermont and Congress. How does that feel?
I feel incredibly proud. I have been hearing from voters across Vermont about what this means for them to have a woman poised to be in that role. And also lots of dads and moms bringing their kids to meet me in the last few days of the campaign to say, ‘Hey, this woman is probably going to be our next congressperson.’
Being able to talk to young people about that, and what it means for all of us to see ourselves as someone who could be in that role is … a really great feeling for me. And lots and lots of people who are part of the LGBTQ community across the state have said, ‘This kind of visibility is a game changer for so many people.’
How could I not feel excited about that?
Now, you're you're not just a state senator, but a former teacher as well. And we've seen over the last 24 hours lots of your former students posting on social media about your win. Do you have any message for the folks that you used to teach?
I have been so moved by the students who have come forward to talk to me during this campaign. And I am the person that I am right now because of all the work I did with them over the years as a as a middle school teacher. I also taught at Community College of Vermont as well, so I know there's a bunch of former community college students out there.
I have always tried to lead in the same way that I taught in the classroom, which is really trying to see every person for the whole of who they are. And being a teacher is a lot of work. And I know — shout out to all the teachers now we've been working through COVID — it's been incredibly difficult for all of you. We get that incredible gift of seeing these students grow up and become Vermonters who give back to their community, and it's a beautiful thing.
Now, when you announced your candidacy, many people still saw Lt. Gov. Molly gray as the front runner, but you ended up winning by more than 20 points. What do you attribute this decisive victory to?
I was just actually sitting with my campaign manager this morning; we were talking about that. We both thought it would be closer as well. And I think, you know, first and foremost, I have to hand it to my field team. They worked long, long hours every single day, making sure that my message got out to as many voters as possible. They made thousands and thousands and thousands of calls and door knocks. And I think, also, our campaign commercials were really effective.
I started noticing a shift a couple of months in where people were recognizing me when I traveled around Vermont in a way that they never had when I was president of the Senate. And so I knew that people were getting a good sense of who I was from our commercials. And I felt like it was a good reflection of the kind of leader that I am. And so people would meet me and they say, 'Oh, the way that you present on the commercials is how you are in person.’ And that's really great to see.
In your victory speech last night, you gave a shout out to Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, and you said that she is, 'One of the good people who is standing up to the haters.’ And I think some Vermonters might be surprised to hear you mentioned such a staunch conservative on the other side of the aisle. So why did you decide to highlight Cheney in your speech?
Well, for a couple of reasons. One, my wife is from Wyoming. We spent a lot of time in Wyoming. And I can tell you, Liz Cheney and I pretty much vote on opposite sides on every single issue. And you know, she is not somebody in our house that I have held up as somebody who I admire. And what I've come to realize in the last year since the Jan. 6 insurrection is that we may disagree on a lot of policy positions — and I'm sure that will be true when I am in Congress as well — knock on wood, when I'm in Congress, as well still need to win the general — but anyone who is standing up for the Constitution, anyone who is standing up for, you know, the democracy, is something that I feel like we need to lift up.
I know it's unusual for a candidate in a primary to lift up somebody of the opposite party, especially somebody who is a staunch conservative. But right now, I truly believe that democracy is at risk. And I want people to know, even if we vote against each other on a whole host of issues, if you're going to be standing up for the rule of law in a democracy, you're someone who gets my respect. So that's why I did that.
And I know even after I said it, I thought, ‘Oh, that was probably pretty unusual.’ But having my wife standing behind me who grew up in Wyoming, you know, we both have talked about it in the house that it's important to name courage when we see it.
You spoke about the democracy being at risk. Liam Madden, who just won the Republican Party's nomination for the U.S. House seat, has also campaigned on the similar idea that the democracy is at risk, and one of the reasons is because of the country's two-party system. He ran in the Republican primary, but he identifies as an Independent. And I'm curious what your thoughts are on your opponent in this race, particularly in the fact that, you know, he is not aligning himself with the far right of the Republican Party.
Yeah, I'm looking forward to a lively conversation with Liam Madden in the general. I think that my record of standing up for regular Vermonters’ not just fundamental rights, but making sure that we have fought for issues that impact them directly, like housing and minimum wage, I think that's going to resonate with voters.
People do not want more anger and vitriol and demonization. I've heard that over and over. People want to be able to talk to their neighbors again.State Sen. Becca Balint, who won the Democratic primary for Vermont's lone U.S. House seat
And, you know, I think it's an interesting proposition for him as an Independent, a so-called Independent, to run as a Republican. We're going to have an opportunity to ask each other some probing questions about, if you don't believe in the structures, how will you how will you govern? So I'm looking forward to it. He's an interesting guy.
And, you know, voters also sent some pretty mixed signals in yesterday's races sort of across the board. There were moderate Republicans like Gov. Phil Scott, who handily won his party's nomination. But a similarly moderate candidate for the U..S Senate, Christina Nolan, was rejected by voters in favor of the much more conservative Gerald Malloy. And then you know, capital P Progressive David Zuckerman won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. What do you think Vermonters are trying to say to their elected officials with all of these mixed results?
I gotta be honest with you, Mikaela, I'm still sifting through the results as well, from all of those races. And there are definitely some surprises for me.
I think that for each of those races, people are going to have to make the case that they are going to be representing all Vermonters. That's what a general is about — representing all Vermonters. And I've been so focused on my race I haven't had a chance to dig into what the larger message is from those other races.
But I do know that from everything that I have heard on the campaign trail, as I've been out and about, is that people do not want more anger and vitriol and demonization. I've heard that over and over. People want to be able to talk to their neighbors again.
So I think the candidates that are able to speak to that are going to be more successful in the general.
The conversation and the messaging between you and Lt. Gov. Gray did get heated at times over the past couple of months. What was your conversation like with the lieutenant governor when she called to concede last night?
You know, it was it was very cordial. It was brief. And it was, you know, she was positive. And she really congratulated my team on a campaign well run. And we also agreed that in the coming weeks and months, we hope to have a longer conversation about the race and how we each want to be helpful to Vermont.
Lastly, don't laugh at me for asking this, but I've got to. I know you just won a primary for the U.S. House. But, you know, in a couple of years, Sen. Bernie Sanders, he’s going to be in his mid-80s. You won his support during this campaign — what would you say to the idea of seeking a seat in the Senate if and when he opts to retire?
I know you need to ask that question, but I've got to tell you, I’m running on just a few hours of sleep. And I will just say, you never know what's around the corner. Sen. Sanders has served us so well, and I certainly am not thinking about 2024.
I'm thinking about the work that we have right now to do in the House, and the work that I have to do in the general to win this seat. That's really what I'm focused on.