DUMMERSTON — In what he called “in a way, not a difficult decision but a sad one,” State Rep. Nader Hashim, citing economic pressures, has announced that he will not seek reelection as one of the two lawmakers representing the Windham-4 district in Montpelier.
In an announcement released on Facebook on Monday, the first-term Democrat said that he and family members have experienced the abrupt and unanticipated economic crunch that has accompanied the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
As a response, political newcomer Michelle Bos-Lun of Westminster West told The Commons that she intends to run for Hashim's seat. The district includes Dummerston, Putney, and Westminster.
“No matter how I look at the numbers, I'm faced with the decision of either running for reelection, or continuing to pay my bills on time and putting food on the table,” Hashim wrote to his constituents.
Vermont's lawmakers are paid $733.04 per week during the session, which runs from January through early May, and up to $126 per day for lodging. The Legislature is part-time in the sense that it requires full-time-plus work for only a portion of the year. That puts a burden on legislators to find work that affords unusual flexibility or to work as self-employed independent contractors when the session is adjourned.
“I hate that only people who can afford it can represent people who can't,” one constituent wrote in one of dozens of overwhelmingly supportive comments in response to his Facebook post.
In Hashim's statement, in which he offered ample praise for his legislative colleagues and constituents, he called the job an “amazingly rewarding experience and a profound honor.”
He offered special thanks for the mentoring and advice of Rep. Mike Mrowicki, a 13-year State House veteran with whom he jointly represents the district.
But “family does have to come first,” Hashim told The Commons on Monday evening, apologizing for any possible distraction while cooking pancakes for dinner for him and his school-age daughter, Rowen.
He did not wish to delve into specifics of his situation, describing his current situation as, “for lack of a better word, a mishmash of financial hardships that popped up over the last two to three months.”
The recent events upended his intentions, said Hashim.
“I certainly envisioned running again,” he said. “I know a number of citizens envisioned me running for office multiple times, at least.”
Hashim is thankful for “a lot of really supportive messages from constituents and even from people outside the district, sending me some encouraging messages and with understanding as well that family does have to come first.”
Bos-Lun to announce run; pandemic changes process
Hashim's decision has prompted Bos-Lun, the chair of Westminster's Democratic Town Committee, to mount a campaign for the seat.
A longtime teacher and youth mentor, Bos-Lun is a graduate of Emerge Vermont, a state offshoot of a national program that “recruits, trains, and provides a powerful network to Democratic women who want to run for office,” according to the organization's website.
She said she plans to formally announce her candidacy on Wednesday, May 13.
John Hagen, chair of the Windham County Committee of the Vermont Democratic Party, said that he was unaware of other party candidates eyeing the seat. Rick Morton, chair of the Windham County Republicans, did not immediately indicate whether the GOP plans to field a candidate.
The filing period for the seat begins Thursday, May 14, and continues until 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 28, for the state primary on Tuesday, Aug. 11.
Major party (Democratic, Progressive, and Republican) candidates must file the Consent of Candidate Form and their Financial Disclosure Form with Putney Town Clerk Jonathan Johnson, the designated Representative District Clerk.
Due to the pandemic, candidates do not need to collect signatures this year. All forms may be scanned and e-mailed, but candidates must follow up with original forms by mail or by hand.
Proud of legislation
Despite his unambiguously progressive politics and platform, Hashim expressed respect in his constituent letter for the Republican lawmakers who have served with him under the dome.
“My physical seat in the general assembly is located in the generally Republican section of the House, and some of the conversations and debates I've had serve as a reminder that respectful political discourse is alive and well in Vermont,” he wrote. “I genuinely believe everyone in that chamber has Vermont's best interests at heart; however, we just have different ideas on how to move forward. Despite the differences, we get along and treat each other with respect and dignity.”
In his letter to constituents, Hashim reflected pride in his work on issues including “reproductive rights, strengthening domestic violence laws, traffic laws, and holding polluters accountable will have lasting positive impacts on Vermonters.”
The issue of reproductive rights, enacted into state law in 2019, was “something that I didn't quite anticipate being as involved with as I ultimately was,” he said.
Hashim served as clerk of the House Judiciary Committee, which helped shape the legislation that ultimately was signed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott. And on the House floor, he joined fellow Democrats in blocking multiple Republican amendments that “would have deteriorated what the bill was meant to do,” he said.
He entered the Legislature as a trooper with the Vermont State Police and, after the 2019 session, began work as a paralegal with Chadwick & Spensley, PLLC, a law firm in Brattleboro. Outside of the State House, he serves as vice president of the Windham County Chapter of the NAACP.
Despite his brief tenure, Hashim brought an approach to public policy through the lens of his life experience as a person of color and as someone with hands-on experience in law enforcement.
In an example of the latter, he described as “one of [his] prouder moments as a freshman legislator” the enactment of legislation, cosponsored with Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, to “hold serial abusers accountable.”
The law now factors domestic-assault infractions committed in other jurisdictions in determining whether police may charge a suspect with aggravated domestic assault. Previously, such prior convictions counted toward that more serious charge only if they took place in Vermont.
“A lot of good stuff happened in the first year,” Hashim said. But for everyone in the chamber, he said, the current session “has kind of felt like the Twilight Zone,” thanks to Scott's public safety executive orders to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers are conducting the final weeks of the 2019-20 biennium via Zoom. In his statement, Hashim has pledged to continue serving his constituents until his successor takes over.
During the pandemic, he believes that service will generally take the form of helping constituents navigate state services and agencies over issues like unemployment compensation, said Hashim, one of approximately 28 volunteers “trying to help the Department of Labor clear the backlog of unemployment claims.”
“That's actually taking quite a bit of time,” he said. “But it's one of the most important things that needs to be done right now. And pointing people in the right direction to find the help that they can get.”
“I have a lot of work to do,” Hashim said. “I'm just not running for re-election.”