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Hallquist Makes U.S. History In Her Vermont Gubernatorial Race

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. Christine Hallquist is now the Democratic nominee for governor in Vermont. And this is historic because Hallquist is the first openly transgender person to be nominated by a major party for that office anywhere in the United States. And Christine Hallquist joins us this morning.

Thanks for coming on the program and congratulations to you.

CHRISTINE HALLQUIST: Oh, thank you. It's quite exciting. The team worked so hard.

GREENE: I mean, it's no small thing to make history in this way. And I guess I wonder, where do you find a balance? Are you worried that this element of your candidacy could overshadow your platform and, I don't know, in some way be used against you during the general campaign?

HALLQUIST: You know, I don't see that happening in Vermont. Vermont welcomed me with open arms in December of 2015. I went all throughout the state the last three days just to stop and say hello to folks. And it just does not come up. It's all about the issues for Vermonters.

GREENE: You say in Vermont. But you don't see the same situation nationwide at this point in terms of embracing you?

HALLQUIST: There really are two messages. You know, it's the Vermont message and the national message. I think from the national message, it is about expanding the nation's moral compass. And I'm proud and honored to be part of that.

GREENE: You have acknowledged that you voted in the past for the current governor of your state, Republican Phil Scott. It makes me wonder why you chose to run as a Democrat and what you might tell Democratic voters who look at that record and wonder if you're committed to the party's core values.

HALLQUIST: I will tell you, I look at the progressive platform, and I find myself quite confused. You know, taking care of people, that's not progressive. You know, when I talk about providing people with health care and making sure people are not homeless and people have a living wage, I think that's what a civil society should be doing. So I think that - you know, I don't think that should even be assigned party labels.

But of course, you know, I know our current governor. He's a very nice guy. But you know, November 9 of 2016 was entirely different than November 8. And we really need a bold and courageous governor now who's going to actively work with other states to push back on some of these things coming out of Washington.

GREENE: You think the job of governor has changed in a state like Vermont and in general since Donald Trump became president in 2016?

HALLQUIST: Oh, absolutely. I look at what's happening in our country. And I will tell you, in 2017, I was in denial because I love Vermont. Vermont's a wonderful state, a very loving state. And I kind of said to myself, well, we're in a cocoon here. But we aren't in a cocoon. Our governor is employing some of the same practices of division and separation that the national party - and he's attacking our public education system. So it's - underneath that nice guy is somebody who's continuing with what the national GOP is doing.

GREENE: Do you worry about the Democratic Party speaking with one voice as we head into, you know, this very important midterm election season? I mean, you could look at the party and say, there are progressives with one message. And then there's part of the party that looks at reclaiming some of the voters that the party lost to Donald Trump, and that's a very different wing of the party with different priorities.

HALLQUIST: You know, I'm proud and honored to be the leader of the Vermont Democratic Party at this point. And I'm going to work hard to pull people together. We can't have what happened in 2016. At this point, our focus ought to be on changing things in Washington and changing things here in Vermont. So some of these issues are quite petty, and they certainly aren't going to get in my way. But I also will say let's stop, you know, hunting for votes and testing the air, and let's do what's right. And what's right is taking care of our fellow citizens.

GREENE: You said in an interview with Politico during the campaign, being transgender means that voters will know serving as governor would not be the hardest thing you've had to do in your life. Say a little more about that.

HALLQUIST: I dealt with not being authentic my whole life. And now that I'm through it and looking back, you know, it's a joy to be where I am today. But it's really hard for folks. And transitioning was clearly the hardest thing that I could ever imagine doing.

GREENE: Not being authentic - speaking there about your personal life - but I wonder if there are lessons in terms of politics when it comes through a period when you feel like you weren't able to be authentic to yourself.

HALLQUIST: Yes. I will tell you, I worked so hard to become my authentic self that there's no way politics is going to get in the way with that.

GREENE: Do you see yourself as a role model in some way?

HALLQUIST: Yes, I do feel the weight and the responsibility of being a role model. And what that means is, you know, our campaign's going to be under a magnifying glass. We have to do everything perfectly. I have to be careful with the words that I choose and really speak with intent, with intention. But I tell you, we have an incredible campaign team. And the entire team is very sensitive and focused as to where we are in terms of history right now.

GREENE: You feel like breaking a barrier puts a lot of pressure on you?

HALLQUIST: Yeah. It puts a lot of pressure on the entire team. And I will tell you, our campaign manager, Cameron Russell, has done an incredible job. We have a 9 o'clock call every day, and he reminds everybody on the call, do not engage with some of our opponents who are saying some pretty horrible things.

GREENE: What do you mean by nasty things that your campaign manager is saying to ignore? Is that just the normal, everyday dirt in a campaign, or have you faced things that are quite different?

HALLQUIST: Oh, we definitely have trolls that are going after - you know, it's sad because it's not just being transgender. It's being a woman. And men can say some pretty hurtful things in talking about a woman's looks. And I know women have to endure this every day. But you know, the team wants to defend me. And you know, I don't need that defense. So yeah, we are continuing to get - including some death threats - but I warned the team early on that the more successful we would be, the more we get trolled.

GREENE: I'm so sorry you're facing that. Christine Hallquist is the Democratic nominee for governor in Vermont.

Thanks a lot for your time.

HALLQUIST: You're welcome, and thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BREAK OF REALITY'S "UPRISING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.