Becca Balint on her win in the race for U.S. House
For the first time in the state’s 231-year history, Vermont voters have elected a woman to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrat Becca Balint served in Vermont’s Legislature as the state senate president, and before that was a middle school teacher. When she's inaugurated in January, she’ll also be Vermont’s first openly gay person to serve in Congress.
Balint easily beat Republican nominee Liam Madden, a Marine veteran and a self-described independent looking to disrupt the two-party system. She won the race with 63% of the vote to Madden's 28%.
Balint will replace Congressman Peter Welch, who was elected to the U.S. Senate after Sen. Patrick Leahy announced he wouldn't seek a ninth term.
Vermont Public's Mikaela Lefrak spoke with Balint. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Becca Balint: Yeah, it's a big deal. This morning, I feel like it's starting to sink in. Well, what a road it’s been.
Mikaela Lefrak: Well, what a road it's been. My first question for you is, how should I refer to you now? Congresswoman-elect? Representative-elect? State senator …
I think Congresswoman-elect, but you know, I'll always be Becca for most of the state at this point.
Well, Congresswoman-elect Becca Balint, congratulations on your victory last night, you're gonna be headed to Washington to represent Vermonters in the U.S. House of Representatives. How does it feel?
It feels it feels tremendous. I was reflecting this morning, as I was looking at the returns, you know that 175,000 Vermonters cast their vote for me, that's like an incredible vote of confidence in the message of this campaign and the work that I have done. And also just the tone of the campaign, we really wanted to run a joyful, issues-based campaign, we wanted people to feel a sense of connection with the campaign, you know, regardless of geography or, you know, political persuasion. And I think we're all just feeling very, very proud of the work that we did. And certainly understand there's so much work ahead.
But I'm, I feel so deeply moved by the fact that I get to represent the state that I just love so much. And it really is in so many ways that dream come true for me to be able to do this.
Well, you said you wanted to run a joyful campaign, that certainly came through and a lot of your appearances. The other word that I hear constantly, when people talk about you, is "authentic." What do you think of that characterization?
I have said to my team early on, I have got to be me on every step of this race. That's how people knew me in my state Senate races and as a leader in the Statehouse. And I don't know, Mikaela, if you are familiar with the work of Brené Brown, I know many Vermonters do read her work.
You know, she is someone that I turn to, that it is that showing up as your genuine self that allows you to have true connection with people. And I have seen that over and over as a teacher, but also as a leader in the Senate, that I want people to know who they're getting when I walk into a room. And that means being the same person every time. My genuine self.
And the conventional wisdom for a long time in politics is that you can't do that, you can't actually be yourself, that it opens you up for critique. And I actually feel the exact opposite.
My team said early on, I mean, we were reflecting on it last night, we were down in the polls. For many months. We didn't have the momentum. But what my team said over and over to me is our strategy is to get you in front of as many Vermonters as we can, you know, one-on-one meet and greets, you know, house parties, and that they felt confident that if I was able to meet enough Vermonters, that I would win this race, because Vermonters want somebody who will show up as their authentic self.
"[C]ertainly as a woman, it is absolutely important that we have more representation. But it's also important that we have women in the room, and gay people in the room helping to craft legislation."Congresswoman-elect Becca Balint
Well, I don't know if you've heard this, but you're going to be the first woman Vermont has ever sent to Washington. That might be breaking news, as well as the first openly gay person the state has sent to Congress. I know you've talked about the importance of representation throughout your campaign. But now that now that it's official, now that you're Congresswoman-elect, what do these historic firsts mean to you?
So many things. There's so many layers of meaning for me first. You know, I reflect back on little Becca, you know, my at that time, my mom used to call me Becky Bonnet, little Becky Bonnet. Yeah, really wanting to have a life in politics, but just feeling like it was was not possible. And certainly as a woman, it is absolutely important that we have more representation. But it's also important that we have women in the room, and gay people in the room helping to craft legislation. When I am in a room, as somebody who has carried a baby or someone who is a parent or someone who has experienced discrimination, as a gay person, I can ask different questions, I can craft different legislation.
And, you know, I always like to let people know like we have been incredibly well-served by our congressional delegation. It's why, you know, these three men have been elected repeatedly, because they've done a great job for us. And I don't have a critique of the work that I've done. And I also know that the lens that I bring, the perspective that I bring, as a woman and as a gay person and also as a child of an immigrant, is different. And I think that's important, to have those voices in the room, we need to have a Congress that truly represents America as a whole.
We spoke to Sen. Patrick Leahy recently and he noted that when he was first elected in 1974, he didn't have a single female colleague, not one. So what a shift. Well, you pulled a commanding victory with more than 60% of the vote to Republican Liam Madden's 27% and Libertarian Ericka Redic's 4%. Now, Liam Madden made his dissatisfaction with the two-party system a real central tenant of his campaign.
What do you want to say to the 27% of voters who went for Madden? And who might have voted for him because of their own frustrations with our, you know, very partisan system in America?
Absolutely. I think that there are voters who are, as you said, frustrated and disenchanted with the two-party system, I think, you know, for me, the important thing that came out of the debates and the forums that I had with Mr. Madden was that, you have to move beyond the the dissatisfaction and distrust and really look, in reality, what can you get done in Congress if you're not willing to caucus with a group of individuals. And he often pointed to Bernie Sanders as a role model, which, you know, role model for so many people, but Bernie Sanders caucuses with the Democrats.
And so there is this, like the base reality of, you've got to figure out how you're going to build a coalition to get work done. And I think that dissatisfaction and that frustration on many levels is legitimate, right? People don't necessarily see themselves represented. But this is the system that we have. And within that system, you have to be willing to come with an open heart, an open mind and work with anyone, regardless of party if they're working with you in good faith. Right. And that last part is important to me, working in good faith. And I've had conversations with our members of our sitting delegation right now. They said, "Look, there are backbenchers on the Republican side that you can work with. But there are certain people within the party that they're not interested in solutions. So don't waste your time with those, like seek out the people who want to get the work done on behalf of their constituents."
So I'm not going to dismiss out of hand. Mr. Madden's critiques. I think many Americans hold them. You know, I had a lovely chat with him last night. I think we both have some respect for each other. And I'm hoping that he'll stay engaged. He gives voice to something that I know as you pointed out a significant number of Vermonters really believe we need to make a change.
Well you just mentioned working within the system to effect real change. And as a state senator, you shepherded for months legal protections for abortions through the Legislature, a process that took years. And one of those measures, a constitutional amendment protecting reproductive liberty, was approved by voters yesterday. How does that feel to see that amendment go through?
Just incredible. When my team got word of that last night, there was just the big whooping and hollering within the room that we're in, because it isn't just about protecting those rights here in Vermont, we really feel that being able to enshrine it in our Constitution is such a bright light. I'm still grinning about it.
You're also going to be entering a Congress that is very different from the one that Vermont's current Congressman, Senator-elect Peter Welch is leaving. It's almost certainly going to be controlled by the Republican Party. And I know you campaigned on big promises around the climate crisis, on Medicare-for-All, and gun control. How do we even begin to accomplish those goals in such a polarized House?
The work is the same either way, whether we are able to eke out, you know, a small majority, or whether we're in the minority, I do think there's an opportunity for overlap on these issues. And, you know, I'm not gonna lie to you, there's a lot we don't know yet. And there's a lot I'm going to be learning in those first few months about how to be effective. But that's the most important thing for me right now, is how will I be effective to truly represent the interests of Vermonters, and I'm going to look for partners wherever I can.
Well, let's wrap up here with a logistical question. Do you know how you're going to be making these trips to and from D.C.? I'm from D.C., I can tell you it's not a short drive. How are you feeling about about spending more time in Washington?
So I will be getting a small apartment in D.C. But I'm going, my family is going to stay in Brattleboro. And I'll be flying down every week out of Hartford, Connecticut, because that's the closest airport for me. And in some ways, it's a continuation of what I've been doing in the state Senate for years is, you know, in Montpelier for four days, home for three, and instead of driving two hours from Brattleboro to Montpelier, you know, I'll be taking that quick hopper from from Hartford to D.C. We should check in how it goes.