Christine Hallquist once finished a marathon burning with a fever. It took her four and a half hours to complete the 26-mile, 385-yard race, and “it was horrible,” but she finished.
“I have a huge amount of endurance,” she said.
Hallquist, 62, a Democrat, finishes what she starts, and she’s less than a week from the finish line of her race against Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
“I’m running on a lot of positive energy right now,” she said.
She needs that energy, considering her schedule. Consider Monday of last week. She started in Newport with a discussion of mental health funding. She spent time talking with a Stowe reporter (and again on Thursday). Then she addressed a class at the University of Vermont on climate, one of her campaign cornerstones, then crisscrossed the state again for an event in Fairlee.
“Typically, I hit about four events a day, but they’re all over the place,” Hallquist said. Some days, she leaves her Hyde Park home at 6 or 7 a.m., and doesn’t get home until midnight, if she makes it home at all.
“My family life is nonexistent,” Hallquist said. “The good news is, my kids are all supportive of the campaign, and so is my spouse, Pat. After the campaign, I intend to reconnect with family.”
At campaign events, Hallquist is assertive about answering voters’ questions.
One Colchester man asked last Thursday about whether state and national leaders of the Democratic Party are “lost in the weeds,” addressing issues such as climate change rather than ones that affect workers, such as low wages or expensive health care.
“The Democratic Party stopped talking” to people in rural areas, Hallquist replied, and she thinks that’s one reason Donald Trump was elected president.
She said she focuses on “‘How’s it benefit those who need it the most?’” when she considers how to effect change; she said she used that approach at Vermont Electric Co-op.
“It’s an affordability issue. Rural Vermont understands they’re struggling” economically in places, but “I’m pretty optimistic.”
She thinks her plan to connect every home and business in Vermont to high-speed fiber will help rural economies, since it will enable businesses to make connections the world over.
Another man in Colchester asked Hallquist how she plans to lead the state with no experience as a state legislator.
“Phil Scott has 18 years of experience,” she shot back. “I don’t think legislative experience is one of those things that automatically makes you a good leader.”
All about energy
While Hallquist consumes a lot of energy in the campaign, energy is also a key part of her campaign platform.
Hallquist is former chief executive officer of the Johnson-based Vermont Electric Cooperative, and sees the state and national power grid as the answer to both overdependence on fossil fuels and rebuilding Vermont’s economy.
The way she sees it, if the power grid is improved, in tandem with fiber-optic internet connections for every home and business in the state, more young professionals will want to move here, and the economy will be rejuvenated.
“There’s no way business is going to come to Vermont, or young people, if they can’t get connected,” Hallquist said.
At the same time, making better power options available statewide will mean less reliance on fossil fuels, Hallquist said.
She spent two years working with Vermont stakeholders in the renewable energy industry, and says she understands what it will take to move Vermont to 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
“Not only is it possible, but it creates an even more robust economy,” Hallquist said.
“Fiber is one of the foundations to make that happen,” since smart appliances can communicate through the grid and regulate their own energy usage, meaning people won’t use fossil fuels unless they have to.
Additionally, a more robust grid will make more and better energy storage possible.
Hallquist has begun discussing with Canadian representatives a North American solution to a better power grid and more efficient power systems.
“We all know President Trump is a nutcase and they do too,” Hallquist said of Canadians. “I think it’s a matter of recognizing that we’re going to make this happen in spite of the president. … There are many states who want to achieve this goal. We’re going to work collaboratively to achieve that goal in spite of what’s going on in Washington.
“I intend to be a very collaborative leader.”
Hallquist thinks she could get the Legislature to approve laws connecting every home and business in the state to a fiber-optic network within two years, and the project would be finished five years after that.
“I’m really bullish about Vermont,” she said.
Building the economy
Hallquist sees Vermont’s downtowns as “very critical” to a vital statewide economy.
“Two-thirds of Vermonters live in what’s technically rural Vermont,” she said. “We can connect every home and business with fiber, but people need a place to congregate. I love living (near) Morrisville because I have a vibrant downtown,” and younger people who consider moving to Vermont will, too.
Vermont made recreational marijuana possession legal as of July 1, but Hallquist said the state needs a taxed and regulated system for marijuana sales.
“We’re in the most dangerous place right now,” she said. “People don’t know where their marijuana comes from. It could be cut with other drugs.
“From a safety standpoint, I want to make it so that you can have cooperative testing facilities so that small farms can participate,” she said.
She thinks a cooperative system can ensure that Vermont squeezes the most juice out of its own local farms, instead of losing business to larger farms in neighboring states such as Massachusetts or Maine.
Hallquist doesn’t see marijuana as a gateway to harder, more addictive drugs such as opiates, but she does think an empathy-first approach is the best way to handle people who struggle with substance-use disorders.
After spending time at the Northwest Correctional Facility, she says imprisonment is not working.
“It’s the worst place we put them,” she said; prison isn’t a place for getting better.
Instead, “the empathetic responses do work,” such as needle exchanges and treatment court, Hallquist said; she also believes safe injection sites in Vermont would help stem the tide of death by overdose.
Burlington has a needle exchange with an on-site nurse, and Hallquist thinks that could be replicated in five other spots in the state.
“Many states are going down that path. It works globally. I know the governor rejected it all-out because of the fight that’s going to happen with the federal government, but I can promise you, I don’t fear a fight with the federal government,” Hallquist said.
She sees the opiate crisis as the biggest challenge she’ll face if elected.
“Growing Vermont’s economy is very straightforward to me. Solving substance-use disorder is so complex that it takes a lot of focus. I think if we can all start and agree that the empathetic response gets results, and the criminalization does not,” that simple mindset change will put the state in a positive place.
Hallquist doesn’t quit
A recent Vermont Public Radio poll showed that 42 percent of people polled favored Scott, 28 percent favored Hallquist, and 22 percent weren’t sure.
“I think those 22 percent don’t know me yet, because I voted for Phil Scott. I’m probably like those 22 percent. I’m highly disappointed,” Hallquist said.
Scott’s position on social issues, including his veto of a bill to require paid family leave, prove that “he’s following the exact same tactics as the national Republican Party, and continuing to focus on ‘We’ll take care of the big corporations and it’ll trickle down.’ I think most people know that trickle-down doesn’t work,” Hallquist said.
She has kept her focus on the issues about which she’s passionate, but can’t deny that her groundbreaking position as the nation’s first transgender major-party nominee for governor — and the national news coverage that resulted — has affected both her and the transgender community.
“It was quite the surprise, the amount of coverage it received. I think we all know, on the team, that we’ve got to continue to focus on what’s important to Vermonters,” and her gender isn’t top of that list, but “I’m honored that I’m helping move the moral compass nationally on this issue.”
She says President Trump is “trying to wipe the transgender population right out of existence” by mandating DNA testing for gender on birth certificates and driver’s licenses.
“And you know what? I’m proud to be his biggest enemy,” Hallquist said. “I’m actually a professional transgender woman.”
It’s interesting, she said, how national and local news coverage is different.
“You focused on the issues first,” Hallquist told the Stowe Reporter. “That’s what Vermont reporters do. Vermont reporters focus on the issues. When I get a national reporter or an international reporter, I know it’s going to be about gender.
“Prior to the Kavanaugh hearings, I was feeling a little funny about it. After the Kavanaugh hearings, I was saying, ‘Hey. We didn’t declare the war on gender,’” she said. “Bring on the gender politics.”
Hallquist says she’s been sexually harassed, and in fact, when she announced she planned to run for governor, “my family and my spouse were upset. … Everybody was upset with me for running for governor. … They knew I was exposing myself to risks.”
But Hallquist said she felt compelled to run, “considering we could have two or three more years” of conservatives in the White House. “I can’t handle sitting back and watching.”
“I didn’t think logically at all,” she said. “It was an emotional response.”
Hallquist is optimistic about the future.
“I’ve run into a lot of people who are struggling with political depression,” she said. “We are a democracy. We can change things.”