Becca Balint: Steep learning curve in my first term
It's just wonderful to be back home. Upon the conclusion of the biennium, I tried a new running route: up Mt. Wantastiquet and back. Despite being an avid runner, I didn't know if I could do it; my asthma sometimes limits my adventures in the spring. But my spouse reminded me that I could always walk when I need to; she urged me to just give it a try. Now, it is part of my routine. The steep climb offers challenge, perspective, and satisfaction, not unlike my work in the Legislature.
Although it's across the river in "Live Free or Die" territory, I always see Windham County constituents on my run. What a great way to talk to voters: climbing ever upward, reveling in lush smells, and pushing towards the vista. I also appreciate that the trails up the mountain are always part stream. I invariably have mud and muck splattering my feet and legs when I reach the end of the jaunt. They mark where I've been, to be sure, but also remind me that most things worth doing involve some muck. Of course, political work can be an awfully messy business.
During my most recent run up the mountain, I reflected on my race for the Senate. Shortly after I won my seat two years ago, I began having nightmares about the job. One recurring dream featured an anxious drive up to Montpelier only to discover that I had no place to stay. Another dream involved meeting with my new colleagues around a very long table; the Vermont Supreme Court and Legislature had morphed into one powerful entity. I evidently had significant anxiety about my new role.
The Snelling Center organized an orientation program for new legislators, and I eagerly attended. Although grateful for the information about the mechanics of the job and the opportunity to meet with past legislators, I nonetheless headed to my swearing in feeling decidedly ungrounded. There was only one other "brand new" senator, someone, like me, who'd never served in the House. Brian Collamore (a Rutland Republican) and I bonded as the new guys. Politically we disagree on many issues, but he speaks my mind when he says to me, "I can't help it. I like you! You always make me smile." Collamore and I laughed, commiserated, and supported each other as we made missteps,
Many senators have served together for a very long time. They have complicated histories with each other and complex alliances and animosities that create the subtext of any floor debate. I learned quickly that the words not spoken were sometimes more illustrative than those which were spoken. Some senators were welcoming, others ignored me for weeks. I watched and listened, and I set out to find "my people," guides across state government who could offer support and advice and also help demystify the process. A glance at my text messages from this week reminds me that my new network is strong and varied.
But even with support, I will invariably stumble sometimes. I was reminded of this as I dashed down the mountain yesterday, feeling alive and nearly weightless. Just as I thought, "This feels wonderful!" my toe caught a root or rock, and I crashed hard into a stream bed. Bruised, cut, and covered in frigid water and mud, I tumbled abruptly down to earth. Once I'd determined nothing was broken, I hooted with laughter; I looked ridiculous. Humbled but in good humor, I picked up my stride again and dashed down the trail.
I am ready to run again.
Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as a state senator from Windham County.
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