Transgender candidate wants to bring Vt. together

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BRATTLEBORO — Christine Hallquist was pretty sure that losing her job would be just one of many losses if she chose to transition from man to woman while CEO of Vermont Electric Coop. In fact, she was fairly certain she'd lose everything. But the truth, she said, was more important.

"I will tell you that when I decided to transition, it was for my children," she said during an interview with Martin Cohn for Brattleboro Community Television's "Meet the Candidates" series on Friday. "We have a wonderful relationship and yet, they didn't know the most important thing about me. And I was going to take that to my grave.

"So I transitioned. And a miracle happened. Vermont welcomed me with open arms. So like I say, I can't do enough for Vermont."

And one of those things, it appears, is to run for governor.

"I like to talk about the governor as being the Chief Executive of Vermont," Hallquist said. "Leadership is one of the key things that people are looking for. And courageous leadership and honesty is probably pretty important too."

Hallquist's interview with Cohn is the first of several slated interviews with statewide political candidates. Cor Trowbridge, executive director of BCTV. Trowbridge said all candidates were sent an invitation to participate in the series. For those who agreed, the interviews are expected to be conducted by volunteer questioners that may include BCTV board members, like Cohn, local journalists or the candidate may bring a host of their own, she said.

"This is a unique opportunity for voters to hear how candidates plan to address issues facing Windham County," Trowbridge said.

In Friday's interview, Cohn asked Hallquist why she was running for governor and what made her qualified given she has never held elected office before.

Hallquist said her "love for Vermont goes deep." She said she was inspired to run in part because of what she described as a governor focused on division rather than unity.

"I am a person who pulls people together to get things done," she said.

She went on to say that she may not have held prior elected office, but that she has been civically active having served as Hyde Park Town Meeting Day Moderator, and on the Lamoille Economic Development Corporation Board, the Sterling Area Services Mental Health Board, and the Hyde Park School Board.

She also pointed out that when she took over as CEO of VEC, the utility was in trouble, describing it as being on the edge of bankruptcy, with the highest number of outages in the state and the highest rates. During her tenure, and she said by pulling everyone in the company together to work on it, VEC went from a triple B minus bond rating to A plus, cut outages by two-thirds, and built system that meets 96 percent of its energy needs from carbon-free sources.

"That's what happens when you pull people together," she said.

Hallquist said one of the biggest issues facing Vermont is the same one that is afflicting rural areas across the country and that is a lack of connectivity that is creating a national digital divide.

"What we're seeing today in Vermont is an aging demographic and flight to the cities," she said. "We're seeing today what happened in the 30s when cities had electricity and rural areas did not. So today at the national level, we have a problem with what they call a digital divide. Rural areas are not going to grow if they can't connect.

"If you don't have the infrastructure, you'll never be able to compete with urban areas. So the most important thing we can do is have the plan to grow the economy and have the demonstrated ability to do those things. I do infrastructure, I think people get that."

When asked by the Reformer following her interview with Cohn, how she planned to connect rural Vermont, Hallquist said the answer lies in having electric companies simply hanging fiber on their existing infrastructure. She said they could do it at a third of the cost and that the "magic" of utility companies is that they are the only organizations that can borrow over a 30 year period at low interest rates.

"What I want everyone to remember about utilities is that they are a regulated monopoly," she said. "They get regulated territories in exchange for carrying out the policies of the state. So we could easily ask them to do this."

Further, she said it would cost the state and tax payers nothing and carries with it an intrinsic incentive for the utilities in the form of the 8.9 percent return on equity they get.

"So the more infrastructure they build, the greater their return," she said.

Hallquist went on to say during her interview with Cohn, that three other interrelated issues top her action list including economic justice issues, affordable healthcare for all and affordable housing.

"When you get down to the root of that, you realize you've got to grow the economy and you've got to raise the wages," she said. "I say we measure our economic growth by how the bottom 20 percent are performing. That's where we should measure our growth. All of these things are intertwined."

She also added that education plays a part in that if Vermont closes its rural schools, people won't move here and it will exacerbate the demographic challenge those areas face.

Hallquist says she's also a big backer of unions and believes in the power they can have to advocate for those who otherwise might not have a voice. In that same vein, she says, Vermont needs an "activist governor," who can pull other like-minded states together in order to have real power and effect change on a national level.

In the end she encouraged voters to do their research on the candidates and that if they are not satisfied with the leadership of the current governor, they should stand up and demand better leadership. Likewise, she said, if she becomes governor, "If you're not satisfied, you can fire me."

Hallquist's Democratic Primary challengers include environmental advocate James Ehlers, Brenda Siegel, director of the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, and 13-year-old Ethan Sonneborn. Primary elections will be held Aug. 14.

Hallquist's interview is available now on the Vermont Media Exchange for other community media stations to air throughout the state and videos on brattleborotv.org are hosted on YouTube, so they are available on any device with a YouTube app, Trowbridge said. The next candidate interview was scheduled for Monday, July 9, with Dan Freilich, Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives.

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