Vermont is poised to lose its status as the only state not represented by a woman in Washington, thanks to a rare opportunity in its congressional delegation this fall.
Three women, including Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint and Molly Gray are two of the three Democrats who will be competing in the Aug. 9, primary for the seat being vacated from Peter Welch (Democratic House member). Welch is trying to move into the Senate. Two women are registered as Republican candidates to contest the midterm elections.
It might seem odd that Vermont would send a woman into Congress, given its liberal reputation. Because of its small population, Vermont is one of the few states that has two senators and one House representative. Like many other states, Vermont has reelected its incumbents. These have been white men who have served for long periods of time and are now retired. That includes Democrat Patrick Leahy, who was first elected in 1974 and is the fourth-longest-serving senator in history.
Elaine Haney is the executive director at Emerge Vermont. She said that it was a "bottleneck of leadership". Emerge Vermont is an organization that prepares women for election. "And so if someone keeps on holding onto all this for a very lengthy time, it closes off opportunities for everyone else."
Leahy announced his retirement last November after eight terms of office. Welch announced that he would be seeking the Senate nomination within days. This left the at-large House seat vacant, which was the first time it had been vacant since 2006, when Welch succeeded now, Sen. Bernie Sanders. Since 1991, Sanders has been a member of the congressional delegation.
Haney noted that women have a different experience in elected office than men. She said that this matters when it comes to issues like abortion rights. A leaked draft opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court would invalidate the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision allowing abortion legalization.
She stated, "I strongly believe -- and I believe a lot more people believe strongly that if women, Democratic woman, were at the table, these types of threatening situations wouldn't be occurring because women would have lived experiences at the center the discussion and the policy."
The Democratic candidates support the right to abortion. The Vermont referendum in November would have the state constitution enshrine the right to reproductive rights. This is the first amendment of its kind in the country. A law protects a woman's rights to an abortion.
Gray stated that Washington needs leaders who will be unambiguous in ensuring that Roe V. Wade is codified at federal level.
Welch is also a strong supporter of abortion rights. He has called for Congress to codify the right. He believes that electing a female to succeed him in office will encourage more young people into running for office.