Long journey
U.S. Rep.-elect Becca Balint, D-Vermont, weathered all sorts of storms to become the first woman elected to Congress from Vermont.

Long journey

In January, Brattleboro Democrat Becca Balint will turn a new page in her political career in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she will be the first openly gay person, and the first woman, to represent Vermont. She believes that her experiences in life and in leadership in Montpelier square with the new Republican regime in Congress. Time will tell.

BRATTLEBORO — What's it like to make history?

“A moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life was waking up the morning after the election, on very little sleep, and hearing my wife say, 'Good morning, Congresswoman,'” Vermont's new Democratic U.S. representative-elect, Rebecca A. “Becca” Balint, 54, said shortly after the election.

Weeks later, the enormity of what she's accomplished is still sinking in.

“I couldn't feel it on Election Night,” she said. “I honestly felt so out of sorts! Proud, eager, curious, daunted, worried, excited. I was careening between emotions all night. I'm certain that was partly because I was exhausted after running this race for almost a year.”

In those days immediately after the election, Balint said, she vacillated between excitement and terror.

Excitement, because - well, she's the first woman Vermont has ever sent to Congress. And also because now she has the job she's wanted for a very long time.

Terror because these are dangerous and divided times in our country, not to mention in our Congress, as Republicans gained a narrow majority in the House while the Democrats gained a similarly narrow majority in the Senate.

Yet the conflicting feelings don't faze Balint, who lives in Brattleboro with her wife, attorney Elizabeth Wohl, currently of counsel to Downs Rachlin Martin, and their two children.

Previously an educator, she was first elected to the Vermont Senate in 2014. In 2016, she became Senate majority leader, and in 2021 she became the first woman and first openly gay person to serve as Senate president pro tempore.

In terms of identity politics, she carries lots of labels: she's a teacher by trade, a politician by desire, a Jew by choice, a gay woman, a wife and mother, the granddaughter of a Holocaust victim, and a child of immigrants.

It's no wonder that Balint often used the word “courage” in her stump speeches.

“If we had believed that change was impossible, I would not be standing here tonight,” she told a cheering Burlington crowd after the election results were announced.

“Take note and take heart: Vermont is a place where kindness and integrity and courage matter,” Balint continued. “Vermont is a place where the daughter of an immigrant dad and a working-class mom can be the first woman and the first gay person to represent Vermont in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

While her primary race opponent, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, also a Democrat, ran on a middle-of-the-road platform with endorsements from political establishment stalwarts like U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, Balint has been progressive from the get-go.

“I give you my word tonight that I will not back down from hard fights in Washington,” she said at the end of her victory speech. “I will carry your hopes and your wishes and your stories with me.

“I will stay rooted in our communities here in Vermont. And I will work for our most vulnerable neighbors every single day [...] because we're fighting for climate action. We're fighting for universal health care. We're fighting for livable wages, for reproductive rights, for the safety of our trans and queer neighbors, for racial equity, for commonsense gun laws, for families across the state who want a better life for their kids and grandkids, and for a nation finally as good as its promise.”

Balint may be the first in many things. For one thing, she's from the very first class of Emerge Vermont, the organization that trains Democratic women to run for office and boasted an 81% success rate in the 2022 election. But she certainly doesn't stand alone.

After she won the primary - which practically ensured her winning the general election - her endorsements included now-U.S. Sen.-elect Peter Welch's seat in the House of Representatives came from Welch himself, as well as from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom she called “the conscience of our nation.”

Sanders took her under his wing and campaigned with her. She was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a host of other people in the U.S. Congress, plus many other famous Vermont politicos.

Breaking the glass ceiling

Why has it taken so long for Vermont to send a woman to Congress? (Vermont is the last state to elect a woman; even Mississippi beat us.)

Well, since Vermont has only one seat in the House and two in the Senate, and those elected to fill those seats tend to remain in office for a long time - or until another slot opens up higher up on the food chain - realistic opportunities for victory tend to not come often.

Leahy is retiring after 48 years in the U.S. Senate, and leaving as the most senior member of Congress. Welch was a representative for 15 years; now he's moving up to Leahy's seat in the upper chamber.

There weren't many women seeking political office when these guys took office, but thanks to Emerge Vermont, things have certainly changed.

One person who isn't surprised that Balint is going to D.C. is her longtime friend and advisor Liz Bankowski, of Brattleboro, who ran Kunin's successful campaign and then served as her chief of staff.

“When Becca puts her mind on something - and never doubt that she has taken a completely studied view of any situation - she's proven that she can win,” Bankowski said. “Those of us who have known her well and followed her career are not surprised by this outcome.”

“She's a natural leader - more so than a lot of people in politics that I've seen, although I don't know if she even sees it in herself,” she continued. “She has such an authentic and genuine quality about her. She's so deeply informed about issues, and politically she's a very smart strategist. She knows how to get things done.”

Balint will now be thrust into a political world often categorized by corruption, selfishness, and a kill-or-be-killed demand for party loyalty. How will a woman who chose “kindness” as a campaign slogan fare in the current atmosphere of national politics?

Bankowski is unconcerned.

“My heart sank a little when she said she was running for Congress,” she said. “My first thought was, 'What words do we even use?' It seems to me to be almost a thankless thing to do in a world so brutal.”

She describes that world as one of “basically open warfare. If you win, I lose. Nobody gives anybody any consideration.”

“I hate to see her having to get into that kind of role,” Bankowski said. “But I'm sure she carefully considered running for Congress or waiting around for the right time to run for governor and decided she wanted to be in national politics. Now I'm feeling that with her winning, and maybe if there are a few more like her, they will be a bit of a light in the darkness.”

Balint is tough, Bankowski said.

“What are the deep motivations in her heart around being in the public arena?” she said. “It has to do with how meaningful the Holocaust was in her family. It has to do with growing up gay in a tough world that wasn't accepting of who she was. These things are deeply rooted in who she is.”

“She will step up and fight,” Bankowski said. “She will engage around basic human fairness and dignity and human rights. She will be as tough as the rest of them. I don't worry about it at all.”

One person who fell under Balint's spell early is Melinda Moulton, who developed part of the Burlington waterfront and created Main Street Landing.

“Becca Balint has always been someone who captivated my interest because she is deeply authentic and true to herself,” Moulton said.

Over time she and Balint have chatted about “the state of our state” and have dug into issues like “income inequality, racial justice, women's reproductive freedom, disability rights, homelessness... and the list goes on,” she said.

“As I campaigned for her, I noticed the ease at which she bonded with folks,” Moulton continued. “Becca's message has always been clear and consistent, and her quick wit, indomitable strength, and brand of truth is sorely missing in our Congress today.

“Becca has a calling and a majority of Vermonters stood up in her favor and gave her the go-ahead to take her unique and authentic brand of humanism to the United States Congress,” she continued. “This is her time, and she will use every second to fight for the health and welfare of our planet and her people.”

'I'm just gonna be who I am'

Balint defies easy categorization. She's small, wiry, and athletic under a helmet of black bobbed hair. She's bright, quick-thinking, fast-talking, charming, funny, energetic, and earnest. She's irrepressible and serious, all at the same time.

She is so personable that her campaign staff believed that if voters could only meet her, they would flock to support her. So they designed a primary campaign around putting her in front of as many people in the state as they could.

“I think having been a teacher for so many years, it's very easy for me to be in front of a group of people,” Balint said. “And so the strategy was always, from the beginning, getting me in front of as many Vermonters as possible, in small groups and large groups.”

Her campaign made 535,000 calls and knocked on tens of thousands of doors. And, after the meet-and-greets and events, Balint would stay for a long time, making sure she answered everybody's questions “so they could really get a sense of who I am.”

“I think people also enjoyed that I was able to laugh at myself,” she said. “I heard that over and over and over again. I was able to make fun of my own foibles, and while I take my work seriously, I don't take myself too seriously.”

“And that goes to all the goofy pictures of dogs licking my face and stupid dances that I did,” Balint continued. “My team was like, 'What are you doing?' And I was like, 'I'm just gonna be who I am.'”

She easily won against Gray, 60% to 36%, according to the Secretary of State's office.

“We heard over and over again that constituents wanted somebody who had experience actually passing legislation,” Balint told me. “As much as they might have supported Molly Gray in the role of lieutenant governor, they felt like she hadn't done the work of seeing a piece of legislation from beginning to end and having to bring a caucus together.”

Since Vermont makes a habit of sending Democrats to Washington, once Balint won the primary, her win was practically a certainty.

Early life

Balint was born in West Germany while her father was serving in the U.S. Army. “The closest military hospital was in Heidelberg,” she said. “So I was born there.”

This gave Balint dual citizenship until she turned 18. “Then I chose the U.S.,” she said.

After the war, her father first tried settling back in West Germany. It was an odd choice considering that his Jewish father had been murdered by the Nazis.

“When my dad first came here with his mom, they actually didn't feel like they fit in,” Balint said. “They sold everything the first time, came, tried to make a life for themselves here, felt kind of like fish out of water and went back to Germany. It was only on that second trip back when they realized, 'Oh, no. We can't make a go of it,' and came back to the U.S.”

When her father left the service, the family settled in Peekskill, New York.

“He worked selling communications systems for what we used to call 'Ma Bell',” Balint said. “That was his first job out of the army and he worked there for his whole career. When AT&T was split into all the Baby Bells, he went with New York.”

The Holocaust hovered over her family.

“That trauma really colored a lot of my childhood,” she said. “So if the phone rang while we were eating dinner, my dad would get very anxious about who was calling the house. Or if people stopped by unannounced. Or if he felt like we were, in his words, 'airing dirty laundry in the community' about things that are related to our family.”

“He did not want information about our family to be out in the public,” Balint continued. “His family had been betrayed by neighbors. And it didn't feel so farfetched that we could be back there again.”

Even though her grandmother was a socialist, she received reparations from the German government for her husband's death for the rest of her life. “It was money that she was grateful to have, for support,” Balint said. “But I think there was ongoing trauma from the Holocaust. Not knowing who you could trust, or where you can put roots down. I think it scarred us.”

“It was certainly hard for my dad,” she said. “When I first ran for office, he would call me just about every month and start the conversation with, 'They hate you yet? Are you getting prank phone calls? Are your constituents supportive of your family?' He was very, very worried. I don't think that ever goes away. It goes down through the generations.”

Her mother had a number of jobs; she worked for a while at the Croton Watch Company factory repairing watches; she worked on a rescue squad; later when Balint was in high school, she did a stint with Blue Cross Blue Shield answering calls.

Balint's mother also spent time at home being a mom and running the house. Later on she went back to school and got a college degree - “and a black belt in Kung Fu,” Balint once proudly told Seven Days.

Her mother is “a friend to the world,” Balint said.

“She's the one in a mall who will help a lost kid find their parents,” she said, “Or she'll take care of a sick neighbor. Her view of the world is that 'Everyone is a friend you just haven't met yet.'”

Besides teaching her to cook, Balint's parents taught her about generosity and hospitality.

“One of the most important things I learned from my parents is that music, humor, and good food will bring people together,” she said.

Balint's progressive politics came out of this environment, but she was not always sure about her parents' political leanings.

“Because my grandmother was a socialist, she and my dad used to get into it sometimes,” she said. “And because of that, I always thought my dad was more conservative than he is.”

Balint describes her parents as “people who really believed in the American dream.”

“He came here as an immigrant to start a new life, and he will always be so grateful to this country for giving him a new chance,” she said. “ I think that when I was in my teens and 20s, it became clear that, at least socially, I was more liberal than they were. And I think that was hard for them.”

Coming out

Early on, Balint's sexual identity began to cause her problems; it was a time when homosexuality was hidden; people didn't “come out.”

“It was a time that was pretty, pretty lonely for me as somebody who was at that time figuring out that I was gay,” she said. “So 11 years old, 12 years old, 13 years old? That was a rough time.”

Balint was something of a tomboy, someone who would play ball with the guys in the neighborhood. She describes herself as athletic and “quite good at hand-eye coordination.”

“But also I was called chubby, which made you feel quite insecure as a kid,” she said. “And when I was in middle school, I started getting 'lezzie' written on my locker.”

The abuse came from teachers as well as students.

“There was lots of homophobia,” she said. “They had no qualms about saying things about 'that faggot' or 'that queer.' So you learned really early on that it was not OK to be that way.”

Life changed a bit for Balint when she discovered Rita Mae Brown's book Rubyfruit Jungle. It helped her to see that she was not alone.

“I knew that I was gay at 11,” Balint said, but “middle school is brutal; it's kill or be killed.”

“So it was really clear to me that I wasn't going to come out,” she said. “I was going to have to wait. I told my high school friends right after we graduated from high school, when I knew we were on our way to college and other things. But I had my first girlfriend during the summer between my junior and senior year.”

One of the first calls Balint made on Election Night was to some of her closest high school friends, who were watching the returns together.

“When I finally came out to them as gay after high school graduation, they were rock-solid supportive,” she said. “They have believed in me throughout my political journey, even when I doubted myself. They have been such a constant source of strength and love. Hearing their voices over speakerphone, I was so choked up.”

Balint did not come out to her parents until she turned 20.

“They were not happy,” Balint said. “And if they knew beforehand, they certainly didn't say it.”

“I just want to be clear that my parents are good people,” she said. “They did the best that they could at that time. But there were some really hard years. They were a product of a different time.”

Balint says that her parents “are very supportive of me and my family now.”

To illustrate this support, she tells of what happened when, on the day after the election, she and her family went out to brunch.

“My parents were just oozing pride and love,” Balint said. “I could tell how excited they were and how proud they were as other diners came over to congratulate me.”

Out, and away

Balint graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College and took an M.A. in education from Harvard University. Later, she took another M.A. in history from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“The first master's was because I knew I wanted to teach either middle school or high school, and I wanted to understand more about theories of teaching and learning,” said Balint, whose first teaching job was in Londonderry. “That's my master's at Harvard. And I did go on to teach middle school for quite some time.”

Then she decided to become grounded in history and took another M.A. from UMass.

“I remember my advisors asking, 'So what are you going to do with this degree?'” Balint said. “I said, 'Well, I'm going back into the classroom.'”

“'Why would you do that?' they asked.

“I said, 'Well, because I feel really strongly that if I'm teaching history in middle school or high school, I really want to understand it on a deeper level.'

“I did my research on Native American land claims, and on African American communities and women's clubs within African American communities post-Reconstruction. I loved it. I love learning.”

By 1994, Balint was working as a rock climbing guide at Plymouth's Farm & Wilderness Foundation, a group of eight Vermont camps originally run by Quakers.

“I just absolutely fell in love with the Vermont landscape,” Balint said. “I thought Brattleboro was such a neat area. I used to come on my days off from from camp. It's such an interesting and vibrant downtown.”

It was at the wilderness camp, in 2000, that Balint met and fell in love with Wohl, her future wife, who was working at one of the other camps.

“Her parents had gone to camp there,” Balint said. “They met there.”

And now, she said, “it's kind of fun that my daughter was there, so it's the third generation at this random group of summer camps.”

The couple formed a civil union in 2004 and moved to Brattleboro in 2007. They were married in 2009, after marriage equality was legalized in Vermont.

Traditionally, Jewishness is matrilineal - passed down to the next generation from the mother's side of the family - but both Wohl and Balint have chosen the religion of their fathers.

“My Jewish history and heritage is very important to me, although I know that because it is on my dad's side of the family, I am not really considered Jewish,” Balint said. “Same for my wife, who is Quaker on her mom's side, Jewish on her dad's.”

“We try our best to keep Shabbat every week and we love and cherish that time of slowing down and being with each other, connecting with our spiritual side and sitting in deep gratitude,” she continued.

“We make fresh challah each week, and I find deep spirituality in the ritual of lighting the candles, singing the blessings, and reconnecting with my family,” Balint said. “I have seriously considered converting at several points in my life, but have come to understand that while the history and culture of Judaism is very important to me, I'm not drawn to organized religion.”

Both Balint and Wohl are guided by the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, which means “healing the world,” and they continue to raise their two children in the Jewish faith even though the kids are, if nothing else, skeptical.

“My kids are proselytizing atheists,” Balint said with a laugh. “We've tried to give them various spiritual homes, and they're having none of it.”

“My older kid came home once from first grade or so and said, 'Mom, can you believe there are people who actually believe in God?'

“'Yeah,' I said. 'I can, actually. Did you say that out loud?' Because I was just so baffled by it. And then I said, 'Well, why don't we keep that as an inside voice right now?'”

Becoming a politician

Balint thinks she decided to be a politician when she was still in middle school, during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 and 1980, when she gave what she described as “the very first political speech I ever gave” at the behest of her history teacher.

“I wish I could remember why he asked me. What did I have to possibly offer? As a seventh grader?” said Balint, who described herself as a “nerd” who consumed the news via television and newspapers daily. “But I remember thinking about how policy changes lives. Decisions change lives.”

Balint would watch the split screen on TV, with the transition of presidential power from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan, and then “the scene of the hostages coming home under Reagan's watch.”

“So much was going on there. I wish I still had that speech. I'd love to know what I had to say about geopolitics. I can't imagine it was earth-shattering,” she said.

Balint was always involved with student government.

“You're not really dealing with big policy issues,” she said. “But I love the idea of being able to make policy changes that would make life easier for people.”

“In high school I won a citizenship award. I won the high school competition, and then the town, and then the region. And I went on to the statewide competition. This was in New York state.

“I mention it for two reasons. One, my dad will never forgive me for having shaved my head into a mohawk days before the big competition; he's convinced that's why I lost. But the other guy was better, and I said, 'I gotta be me.'

“And when I won the regional one, a newspaper reporter came out to ask me, 'What do you think you are going to do with your life?' I was a senior, and I said, 'I'd like to teach, and hopefully write and then become a politician some day to make life better for people.

“And my mom always says, 'How did you know that?'” Balint said. “And I really don't know.”

Injustice was always her cause, Balint said.

“If I look back, the throughline is thinking about the injustice of my grandfather's death,” Balint said. “Thinking about the injustice that I saw,” she said, citing the assassination of gay liberation icon Harvey Milk, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “Thinking about the Civil Rights Movement. All of those things shaped me into feeling like politics could be an avenue to improve conditions.” She describes Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, as “always my biggest political hero.”

After she and Wohl married, Balint taught history at the Community College of Vermont, spent time at home raising her children, and finally put her political feelings front and center when she went to campaign school at Yale University.

“It's a bipartisan program, one of the few that exists,” she said.

She followed that up in 2013 by becoming a member of the first class at Emerge Vermont.

“It was a wonderful experience to be with other women who cared deeply about politics and policy,” she said. “That very first weekend, we were in the State House; I met some of my now dearest friends in that room. We talked about what it was that drew us to the work. And I was just in awe of the State House, being in there.”

At that point, Balint said, she “really didn't think that I would run anytime soon, because the kids were so little. I just wanted to go through the process and make those connections. But why go through the training if you're not willing to put yourself out there?”

She credits Wohl for pushing her.

“She said, 'This is something that you've been interested in for a long time. And you just put it on the back burner? Don't you want you to try it? The first time out, you may not win.' I would not be where I am today if it weren't for her incredible support.”

For her first-ever campaign, Balint challenged incumbent senators Peter Galbraith of Townshend and Jeanette White of Putney for a Senate seat to represent Windham County. When Galbraith dropped out of the race, she and White won handily.

Vermont legislative accomplishments

In the Senate, Balint helped form the task force that eventually broke the impasse on the state's pension system. And when Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the task force's solution, Balint and House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, were able to unanimously override the veto, earning the gratitude of teachers everywhere.

She also gets credit for her work on Article 22, the first amendment in the nation protecting reproductive rights. It overwhelmingly passed into the Vermont Constitution on Election Day.

“Some of the most important work I've done is around housing investments,” Balint said. “We've invested hundreds of millions of debt dollars in all kinds of housing, from rehabbing dilapidated buildings to accessory dwelling units to bringing hundreds of units online. And it isn't enough. It absolutely isn't enough.”

“One of the things that I've learned in the last couple of years - and in working on this issue in earnest - is that rural America is really, really struggling,” she continued. “We can't get out of the housing crisis if we're not investing in housing in small towns and villages. It can't just be Burlington.”

“But in order to do that, you need to have water and sewer investments,” Balint said. “I hear from planners across the state that they would like to be able to build more housing in their downtown village centers, but they don't have the water and sewer capacity.”

She said building that capacity is “definitely something I'm interested in working on in Congress.”

Balint also worked on the issue of food insecurity.

“I'm really proud of the work that we did on universal meals,” she said. “We worked very hard in the last two years to make sure we could fund universal meals for kids in schools, for breakfast and for lunch, as we've seen rising levels of hunger in the state.”

She also gets credit for helping to pass the first gun safety laws in Vermont's history - a change she called “one of the most important things we did.”

“It was at a time when everybody said it was the third rail of Vermont politics,” Balint said. “Even the governor thought you can't pass gun violence prevention laws in Vermont because of our hunting culture.”

“But many of us felt there was a difference between the incredible passion that so many hunters and anglers have about the natural world that was very different from what we were hearing,” she continued. “People were fed up with how easy it was to purchase a gun. There was no background check. There was no waiting period. These are commonsense laws, and most people were shocked that they are not on the books.”

Balint was on the receiving end of nasty emails and comments for her gun stance.

“It's a really interesting moment when I'm being called a Nazi and a fascist,” she said. “Just think about my own family's experience with that.”

“It was always an interesting mix of emotions that we couldn't even have a civil conversation about something that most Vermonters feel is common sense,” Balint observed.

Balint also led passage of a paid family leave bill through the Senate, as well as a minimum wage increase and a climate bill that her website describes as “the boldest climate bill our state's ever passed.”

She admits that she has also made mistakes and is likely to make more of them.

“Of course I'm going to let people down sometimes,” she said. “I'm a human, and I'm going to screw up. But I'm going to do the best that I can. I don't think I have all the answers. I really don't. I should always be very, very curious about what somebody else is bringing into a meeting or a conversation.”

“And I don't think that makes me a weak leader, even though I've been told it does,” Balint said.

The House campaign

When Leahy announced his retirement after 48 distinguished years in the Senate, he opened the dam and a flood of politicians swept through - many of them women.

Welch wanted to move up to replace Leahy, which opened up the seat in the House. Balint threw her hat in that ring.

One motivating force was the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., said Balint, who was in Montpelier being sworn in as president pro tem of the Senate on the same day.

“So I went from the highest high of getting elected to this position by my peers, and having for the first time ever a woman speaker of the House [Krowinski] while there was a woman president pro tem. And just a couple of hours later we were sitting in our offices watching the news. So I went from this incredible feeling of elation to terror and a really deep concern about the democracy.”

“Jill and I felt strongly that we had a responsibility to show that in Vermont we could still have functioning government, that as much as we can be frustrated with the governor for vetoing our bills and not seeing eye to eye on things, we're still going to have a functioning government,” she continued.

Balint said that at that moment, she saw that “the fight of my life” - where she would need to put her energy on issues like voting rights, reproductive freedoms, and the consequences for a failed coup against the U.S. government - would be at the federal level.

At one point, the LGBTQ Victory Fund political action committee started pouring money - eventually, $1.1 million, mostly from one person - into Balint's campaign.

In her primary battle, Gray raised the issue of dark money influence - a legitimate public policy issue. But PACs are not part of any campaign; while they may produce ads, the law forbids them from coordinating with a candidate's campaign.

So Balint had no say in how the money was spent on her behalf, and it worried her.

“It's horrible,” she said. “It's absolutely horrible.”

“I was incredibly frustrated by that spending. I don't know who the man was and I never met him,” Balint said. “I was holding my breath for weeks, because I didn't want this person or this organization to go negative on my opponent. That would have been a nightmare in every possible way. Not in line with my values, not in line with my campaign.”

“It was an incredibly unsettling time,” she continued. “People in Vermont were so angry at the number of mailers that were coming in. My own wife was upset. And I couldn't do anything about it.”

That $1.1 million came from Nishad Singh, director of engineering and a minority stockholder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which has fallen into bankruptcy.

The firm's chief executive officer, Sam Bankman-Fried, has been arrested on charges of violations of securities laws. Separately, he contributed $2,900 directly into Balint's campaign and into Welch's campaign.

Both politicians have donated that same amount to charity.

PAC money - which Balint called “really unhealthy for our democracy” - especially noticeable in negative advertising during a campaign, was made possible by the U. S. Supreme Court's Citizens 2010 United decision, which gave corporations the same free speech rights as individuals.

Vermont hasn't seen much negative advertising, but neighboring states were drowning in it during the run-up to this election.

Balint said she would work to overturn Citizens United.

“Short of that, I don't see how you combat that kind of spending,” she said.

On to Washington

Balint is taking to D.C. a laundry list of other progressive causes to work on. Topping her list is the mental health crisis.

“I've been very focused on it for years,” she said. “That is something I'm going to be really working on in earnest from from the get-go. It's clear that we have a shortage of mental health counselors and practitioners at all levels. I think we need some federal funds to help us get [new] counselors trained up.”

There is “an incredibly high rate” of both anxiety and depression in young people, teens, and people in their early 20s, Balint said.

“I think the pandemic has been incredibly difficult on them,” she said. “And so I think we need additional supports within schools, but also within communities.”

Balint has talked to a lot of teachers about kids “being disregulated right now, and they are having a really hard time coming back from the loneliness and disconnection they felt during the pandemic,” she said. “I think investing in mental health is going to be a signature issue for me.”

Across the aisle

Given the narrow GOP majority that will control the House for the next two years, Balint believes her experience in the Vermont Senate has given her the tools to get along with people in a difficult and divided work environment.

There, “we try to get to know people first, before we're trying to do work with them,” she said. “So in that way, I think it will be the same.”

“Having grown up as a gay person gives me a different perspective on how we engage with people we disagree with,” Balint observed. “You can't be afraid to talk to your neighbor because they have a Trump sign.”

“When you grow up gay, knowing that so many of the people around you don't approve of you, you don't have the luxury of just writing people off. Else you'd be writing off your own family, or your own friends. And so you have to make it work somehow. You've got to find a way to get beyond that, or else you'd be very lonely indeed.”

On her first D.C. trip, she learned that this may be the first time members of Congress will have a line item in their budget specifically for security for their homes, and for bulletproof glass in their offices.

“They never had to worry about that before,” Balint said.

“How can you sit through a meeting like that and hear what some of the other members have experienced and not be concerned about that?” she said. “It doesn't take more than a tweet of disinformation to stir people up.”

“So, I'm very concerned about how we regulate the social media going forward, how we prevent those kinds of errant tweets becoming weaponized,” she said. “Security is the thing that wakes me up at night, when I worry about my family being on this journey with me.”

Balint will be living in D.C. during the week; she plans to fly back each weekend to be in Brattleboro with her family.

This won't be unlike her time in the Vermont Senate. When she began, she had a room in Montpelier but came home twice a week; then she and Wohl decided that for the children, saying goodbye twice in one week was too distracting. After that, Balint only came home on weekends.

This past year, campaigning often took Balint away from home. Now she will have a regular schedule again.

“We have been trying to keep things as normal as possible for the kids,”(1) Balint said, noting that she and Wohl have been “checking in regularly with them to see what they need right now.”

“And we have told them - and their teachers - that we are balancing keeping things normal and calm for them while also understanding that there may be events and gatherings that we want them to attend,” she added. “I want them to have all the opportunities this affords them.”

On the day after the election, the family was driving home from Burlington when they made a stop in Barre, the “Granite Capital of the World.” There, they visited the Hope Cemetery, which, according to Atlas Obscura, “serves not only as a place to remember those who work outside the craft and are buried there, but also as a tribute to the stone cutters and artisans interred amongst the sculptures they created while they lived.”

“The marble carvings there are incredible, and my son has wanted to go for a while now,” Balint said. “We took an hour or so and walked around together looking at the craftsmanship and marveling at the talent of those stonecutters.”

“We all love history, so it seemed like the perfect thing to do together,” the lifelong teacher and representative-elect said. “It's not lost on me that my election has now also made me a part of Vermont's history. I feel the weight of that.”

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