U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, left, and Andrea Seaton, Senior Director of Development, Marketing & Community Relations for Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital in Townshend, look at the plans for a $20 million expansion of Grace Cottage’s primary care clinic during an April 1 news conference.
Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, left, and Andrea Seaton, Senior Director of Development, Marketing & Community Relations for Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital in Townshend, look at the plans for a $20 million expansion of Grace Cottage’s primary care clinic during an April 1 news conference.

Balint seeks second term

No challengers as yet, but U.S. representative says she is working hard to help Democrats retake the House

BRATTLEBORO-There are times when Vermont likes to go all in, so in 2022, when it decided to send its first female to Congress, it chose Becca Balint, an idealistic lesbian politician, a progressive Democrat, a Brattleboro resident, a mother of two, a former teacher, and the former president pro tem of the Vermont Senate.

"It's been an incredible joy and a privilege," Balint told The Commons when she announced her re-election campaign late last month. "And it feels like an amazing outgrowth of the work that I did at first as a teacher and then as a state senator. To really focus on how to improve lives for people. So that's, by far, the most exciting opportunity for me - to try to make some progress on the issues that really matter to people in Brattleboro and across the state."

But she entered the 117th Congress which Ohio Republican Mike Turner, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has called the "chaos caucus."

And Balint agrees with Turner.

"It is no secret that this has been a Congress for the record books," Balint said. "And not in a good way. We started the chaos in January. We had to go 15 rounds for a speaker."

That speaker, California Republican Kevin McCarthy, lasted only 269 days, the third-shortest speakership in history. Then he retired from the House. His replacement was Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana.

"We got another speaker and just before this break, we had [Georgia Republican] Marjorie Taylor Greene introducing a vacate-the-chair motion to get rid of Speaker Johnson," Balint said. "So, more of the same, right? More of the same chaos?"

Balint does not believe Greene is serious about impeaching Johnson.

"It's possible that she never ever does anything with this and that it was just a fundraising strategy," Balint said. "She dropped it in the last few hours before a two-week break, and she knew nothing could happen. So it sure looks to all of us that this is just a ploy to raise money over the break, and more games. Because they don't have the votes. They don't have the votes to elect a more extreme person. We've been through this."

Face-to-face with cynicism

Balint serves on the House Judiciary Committee with Greene and other far-right MAGA Republicans. She said the cynicism can be demoralizing.

"It's certainly been frustrating for me to sit in Judiciary every day and see the cynicism, the meanness of spirit, and the constant attacks on the trans community and their parents and their allies," Balint said.

"That has been so, so painful to watch, both in Judiciary and on the floor of the House," she continued. "This was a concerted effort they made; the GOP tried to settle on an issue that would rile up the base, and they settled on beating up on trans kids and their families. And so that has been one of the most painful things to be pushing back against, week after week."

Not only does this represent base cynicism, Balint said, it represents real cowardice on the part of many Republicans.

"I see my colleagues across the aisle, many of whom I know on a personal basis, and many of them know that Trump and Trumpism is bad for their party," Balint said. "It's bad for Congress. It's bad for the country. And they can't seem to find the courage to stand up against it. That certainly been incredibly challenging."

And the last six months, "dealing with the Israel and Gaza war, of course, have been profoundly painful and challenging for so many of us in Congress," she said.

High points of the first term

As difficult as the 117th Congress has been, Balint is enthusiastically positive about her time in Washington.

"It's really been an honor to serve Vermont in Congress," she said. "It has been an incredible joy and a privilege to really focus on how to improve lives for people."

Recently, Balint introduced a bill that would, if passed, pour money into housing construction across the country.

"By far, the most exciting opportunity for me is to try to make some progress on the issues that really matter," she said. "As we all well know, we have a housing crisis. And I was so excited to be able to introduce my Community Housing Act, and feel like I've really planted a flag in the ground about the level of investment needed for housing."

Balint feels she has even made headway on the Judiciary Committee.

"I feel like I've been able to really show my leadership," she said. "We're pushing back on the outrageous ways that they're attacking. Whether it's reproductive rights, or the rights of immigrants and migrants, or the queer and trans community, I feel like I am making a difference there. And I'm getting a name for myself in the caucus as someone who is a workhorse and not a show horse."

Balint is also proud of the work she has done on mental health - another of her key issues.

"I cannot wait until Democrats are back in the majority so that we can really invest in medical support at the level that we need," she said. "I was able to secure $11 million to fund 16 projects around the state. I know Vermonters hear a lot about the dysfunction in Congress, but my team works really hard to make sure that they work closely with the Appropriations Committee to get those projects funded."

Another high point for Balint was being able to help almost 1,500 Vermonters with issues related to security or immigration issues.

"And many people needed help with looking for resources after that terrible flooding this summer," she said.

Balint and her staff have also formed a strong working relationship with Vermont Senators Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders. Earmarks are local projects specifically targeted to receive federal money, or "Vermont taxpayer dollars coming back to Vermont," as Welch said.

And, this year, Balint found $1.5 million for Grace Cottage Hospital. The little hospital in Townshend is planning a new, $20 million clinic to replace the existing Grace Cottage Family Health buildings.

"All along Route 30 from Brattleboro up to towns like Jamaica, we know that there are rural health care needs that are met so wonderfully by Grace Cottage," Balint said. "It's such a resource for so many of those Vermonters living on those dirt roads up there. And there are a lot of elderly folks who get their service at Grace Cottage."

Israel, and Ukraine

In February, Balint and some of her Democratic colleagues made a stealth trip to Israel to get some firsthand information about what was happening.

"As difficult as this is, I'm very clear, having spent time in Israel and in the West Bank, that Netanyahu and this extremist government has shown utter disregard for the lives of Palestinians," Balint said. "And it has to stop."

She said that she is "clear that we need an immediate ceasefire" and the release of all the hostages kidnapped from Israel on Oct. 7, 2023.

"And ultimately, the way for people to secure peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis, [is that] we need a two-state solution," said Balint, who believes most Vermonters agree with her.

Her constituents "want me to do my homework, and they want me to think carefully and deeply about this issue," she said. "And I'm doing just that."

Right now, the MAGA Republicans are holding back approval for additional funding for Ukraine as deals with the start of a third year of a brutal invasion by Russia. Balint wants to see that funding released.

"That has been a very troubling development," Balint said. "The Republicans have become apologists for Putin. And we know that every day that goes by when we are not supplying Ukraine is another day that Putin is celebrating and planning his next move."

She said that seasoned Democrats and Republicans "cannot believe that this is where we are, that a major party in the United States is protecting an autocrat. It's shocking."


At the moment, no one has thrown a hat in the ring to challenge Balint; people have until May to file. This might be the first uncontested race she has ever run. But she is still fundraising to pay for television ads, mailers, buttons, and other campaign merchandise - but, most of all, for staff salaries.

"We know from our first campaign that the way that we were really able to win was that we had an incredible get-out of the organizing team on the ground," Balint said. "That's what enabled us to really overcome what so many people said was impossible - that someone from Windham County could win statewide."

She noted that the campaign "engaged a lot of young voters around the state. So the bulk of where our money goes is in organizing. And you have to pay people, you know. That's really important to us."

During her first run for Congress, Balint became collateral damage when a corrupt group of left-wing cryptocurrency financiers unaffiliated with her campaign gave more than $1 million to a political action committee (PAC) unrelated to the candidate. The money paid for a blitz of television and direct mail ads - ads that she could not control or stop.

"We didn't know any of the folks who were engaged with our campaign," she said. "It was spent outside of the campaign in support of me, but I had no control over it. I wasn't in charge of the message. I wasn't in charge of what kind of pieces of mail were going out."

As a result, "a lot of Vermonters were very frustrated with the kind of mail that was coming from organizations that I have no control over," Balint said. "That is why we need campaign finance reform."

This time around, she said she is taking precautions.

For starters, "We're not taking any crypto money," Balint said. Nor will the campaign take money from corporate donors or from corporate PACs.

"We're doing everything that we can to run a campaign that's funded by the small-dollar donors," she said.

While she campaigns in Vermont, Balint is also campaigning in other states for other Democratic Party candidates.

"One of the things that's so important to me is that it is absolutely not just about my race," Balint said. "It's also about making sure that we have the numbers to be able to flip the House."

Otherwise, she said, "we are not going to be able to get the work done that needs to be done, like housing and investments in mental health, in climate action, and of course, reproductive rights."

Among those candidates are the first trans woman running for Congress: Sarah McBride from Delaware.

"She's become a friend, and I love supporting her," Balint said. "She's come up through the state legislature. And she's been in an incredibly effective elected official and legislator," she added.

Balint has been working on some campaigns through the Equality PAC, an organization that supports "people from the LGBTQ community across the country" and which was very supportive of her first race.

A "sleeper" Senate race that Balint is watching closely is Andy Kim's race in New Jersey. "He and I became friends, and it looks like he is going to be successful," Balint said. "He would be the first Korean-American in the Senate. He is someone who inspires me."

What's ahead?

What can Vermonters expect if Balint is elected to a second term?

"Well, first and foremost, I focus on the work," Balint said. "And I understand that if I lose heart, if I become cynical, then I can't do the work that needs to be done to honestly bring this country back from the brink of losing our democracy."

She predicted that she will "need to focus my energy on the opportunities that we have ahead, in flipping the House in 2024. Because that will mean investments in housing, in mental health support, in reproductive rights, in expanding the Child Tax Credit - which we know works to bring millions of children out of poverty."

Meanwhile, she reflects on the "real consequences to having a Democratic majority. We saw that in the huge infrastructure bill that we were able to get passed. So it becomes very tangible to me when I focus on how productive we can be."

Balint said she has a good team ready to support her efforts in Congress.

"This is a piece that I think a lot of folks don't realize," she said. "When you're a member of Congress, you are only as successful as the team around you. And I have a terrific team - not just in Vermont, but also in D.C."

The team members "work well together," Balint said, adding that "they understand that their most important job is serving Vermonters."

"And I just like them all individually," she continued. "As a group, they crack me up. That's a lot of how I keep my spirits up - through people who will focus on the work in the same way that I do."

This News item by Joyce Marcel was written for The Commons.

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