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Oppenheim: Racing To Govern

Keith Oppenheim
Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist and Republican incumbent governor Phil Scott debate as hosts Jane Lindholm and Bob Kinzel look on.

When it comes to this year’s Vermont Governor’s race, I’m among those voters who still can’t decide between the two major party candidates.

Back in August before the primary, I read up on all the contenders in an effort to rank them by governing experience. Aside from incumbent governor Scott, I thought the most prepared was Christine Hallquist. And I didn’t think much about the fact she is a transgender candidate. I focused on her qualifications.

Still, As someone who follows media trends, I was irritated I didn’t anticipate the national media attention Hallquist would get when she achieved a milestone: the first major party transgender candidate to run for governor in the U.S.

And I was frustrated when, in a recent televised debate, as Hallquist was being asked a question about energy policy, the moderators tossed to a clip from a documentary dating from before Hallquist had transitioned.

Back in the studio, she responded to the clip as the woman she is today, and at least for a while I stopped listening to her as a candidate, and only saw her through the lens of gender.

It pained me to admit that, so a few days later, I took a group of my students to watch the candidates in a live debate, where both Hallquist and Republican Governor Phil Scott acquitted themselves quite well. At times, they spoke directly to each other, and while they disagreed, they weren’t overly argumentative.

In the end, I found myself kind of back where I’d started. I don’t agree with the party Phil Scott represents, especially on issues of climate change. But Scott is a moderate who presents himself as an administrator seriously engaged in grappling with the financial challenges of state government.

Hallquist is getting better as a candidate – and she laudably speaks to ideals. But she’s often vague on specifics like how to manage dwindling school enrollment.

So for me, looks like it’s coming down to choosing between a moderate Governor with whom I sometimes disagree, or a compelling newcomer who may not be entirely ready for the job.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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