By Mark Johnson
A utility executive who went through a high-profile gender transition is planning to run for governor.
Christine Hallquist, chief executive of the Vermont Electric Coop since 2005, will run as a Democrat, joining environmentalist James Ehlers and 13-year-old middle school student Ethan Sonneborn of Bristol. They will compete for the right to take on Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who has said he will seek a second term in November.
Hallquist, who lives in Hyde Park, calls herself a “George Aiken Democrat” and said she was motivated to run after attending the Women’s March in Montpelier last month.
“The message was we have to get involved,” Hallquist said last week. “There are strong headwinds out of Washington, D.C., that could get worse and threaten us financially.” She also raised concerns about Washington policies such as a crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” including claims against Burlington.
Hallquist described a platform that included supporting economic growth with more “safety nets.” She said the gap in prosperity between Chittenden County and rural areas could be reduced through expanded broadband internet service. Lake Champlain cleanup and carbon reduction would be other priorities.
Hallquist’s candidacy was first reported by Seven Days. In an interview with VTDigger, Hallquist admitted voting for “nice guy” Scott in 2016. She also registered as a Republican to try to thwart Donald Trump’s nomination by voting for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Vermont primary, but now plans to change party affiliation.
Hallquist said she was a moderate like Aiken, a Republican Vermont political icon. He was a former governor (1937-41) and senator (1941-75) whom Hallquist said would be rejected today by his party as not conservative enough.
Political analyst Eric Davis said Hallquist or any challenger would face an uphill battle against Scott, but said an upset could occur, particularly given Trump’s unpopularity in Vermont.
Hallquist, 61, said she hoped Vermonters could “overlook some of their fears” of voting for a transgendered candidate and consider more her record at VEC, where she led a financial turnaround. The Johnson-based utility touts a 95 percent carbon-free portfolio, an effort Hallquist promoted.
“We’ll find out,” Hallquist said. “I don’t know the answer. That’s an unknown.”
Hallquist said she would have to raise a minimum of $2 million to be competitive. She told the VEC board she would make a decision on whether to run by Feb. 20, but said last week that she plans to run and would step down as soon as possible from her CEO job.
Hallquist promised “the nicest race” in Vermont history if she wins the primary and will focus only on issues.
Davis said Hallquist and Ehlers were both credible candidates who could assemble a staff, raise enough money and put up a challenge. Casey warned that for Scott, the race may not be “a walk in the park.”
A longer version of this report is online at VtDigger.org.