Becca Balint Talks About Becoming Vermont’s First Female Senate Pro Tem
When the new biennium of the legislature begins on January 6th, the first woman to serve as the Vermont Senate Pro Tem is expected to be confirmed. During a caucus in November, Democrat Becca Balint won the nomination and with Democrats controlling the Senate, her election to the post is secure. Balint, a Brattleboro resident who is openly gay, is one of a cadre of women assuming top positions in the Statehouse in 2021. She tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley why she wants to be pro-tem of the Vermont Senate.
"You know, I fought for social justice and equality my whole life. And I think government is a mechanism that can be used to make the world more just. And to have the ability to work with my chamber in Vermont towards those ends is really, really exciting. And I think it's also a great use of my skills and experience. I come from being a longtime educator and I have really solid facilitation skills. And, you know, it's not lost on me too that I'll be the first woman in this role in the history of the state of Vermont. And I think as a woman, as a child of an immigrant, as a member of the LGBTQ community, as a person who didn't come from money or political power or have political mentors and connections, think I am the right leader for this moment because I just represent everyday people in our communities and I really want our legislature to reflect the needs and interests of our diverse population here in Vermont."
Bradley: "The focus as the session starts at least is going to have to be the pandemic."
Bradley: "How are you going to work on the pandemic and still move towards some of these goals and some of these ideals that you just outlined?"
Becca Balint: "Yeah, I see them very much intertwined. And I will, I will say to you, you're absolutely right. We are going to be for the foreseeable future working on pandemic relief 24-7. We are very concerned about what will happen if we don't get any more federal CARES funds. It's going to be very difficult for us to balance the budget and to really give attention and resources to our existing programs let alone any any new ones. But I don't think that my push for thinking about equity and social justice is actually apart from our goals in terms of pandemic relief. There are issues of social justice and equity embedded within both the problems and the solution. So I actually think that they have to go hand in glove."
Pat Bradley: "Becca, how will your perspective as a woman and as somebody who's part of a minority community, basically the LGBTQ community, how do you think that that's going to impact how the issues move in the Senate at least? You know, you can't necessarily control what happens in the House, but at least what's going to be happening in the Senate?"
Balint: "Right. You know, I went back to think about all of the people that have held this job before me in Vermont and a mentor and friend of mine suggested that I go back and literally read the names of all the men who have come before me. And it was really fun because they have names like Ebenezer and Orlando and Seneca and Ernest. And, you know, they go all the way down to you know my name. I'll be there at the bottom. And I said this to someone yesterday I don't necessarily know if I will be a better Pro Tem because I come as, you know, with my experience as a woman, as an LGBTQ Vermonter, as a child of an immigrant. I don't know if I'll be a better leader. But I do know that I will be bringing different perspectives into the chamber and into the conversation."
Bradley: "Becca Balint, there's been a lot of talk about how women will dominate the leadership in the Statehouse. It's not just you being the first woman as Pro Tem in the Senate. We've got Molly Gray becoming a female Lieutenant Governor. Allison Clarkson is going to be the Senate majority leader. Cheryl Hooker will be the Senate whip. In the House it looks like Jill Krowinski will be the next Speaker. Over in the House also Taylor Small is the first transgender representative in the House. Why do you think women have become so strong in Vermont? Are you talking issues and it doesn't matter or is there something else going on?"
Becca Balint: "Well, it's a couple things. I want to, you had said something that I thought was really interesting. A couple of the headlines in the last couple weeks have been you know, women will dominate leadership. And although I think that we will be truly more represented in leadership, it's an interesting word dominate because I've never seen a headline in Vermont that says men will dominate leadership and yet they've done it for, you know, hundreds of years. So it's just an interesting thing for us to wrestle with. What does it mean when women finally are having their place in positions of leadership? And so you ask a great question. What does it mean? What's going on here? I actually think as we come out of this summer of a national reckoning finally about unfinished business about racial equality, or inequality rather, and when we see the repudiation at the ballot box of the Trump administration, and how so many of those swing state victories came down to Black women turning out in really large numbers I feel like there's been this energy that has been bottled up that is now finally unleashed. I see that in my own community. I see that within the Legislature. That women and other marginalized groups within Vermont are saying I have to try to control my own destiny. I can't leave it up to other people to do that. And so although there are going to be more women in leadership in the Senate we still only make up I think at this point less than a third still of the senators in that chamber. We've never sent a woman to Congress. We've only had one female governor in the state of Vermont. And so I think in some ways women feel like we're making up for lost time."