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Sunday, Nov 28, 2021

Women in U.S. Electoral Politics Class hosts panel of Vermont legislators

In clockwise order, starting top left: Taylor Small, Molly Gray, Ruth Hardy, Rebecca White, Jill Krowinski, Kesha Ram, Esther Thomas, Becca Balint.
In clockwise order, starting top left: Taylor Small, Molly Gray, Ruth Hardy, Rebecca White, Jill Krowinski, Kesha Ram, Esther Thomas, Becca Balint.

Visiting professor and Vermont State Senator Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) organized a panel of eight women in Vermont politics to share their experiences and wisdom with the Middlebury community on Nov. 2. 

The panel included Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray, President Pro Tempore of the Vermont Senate Becca Balint (D-Windham), Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives Jill Krowinski (D-Chittenden), Senator Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden), Representative Taylor Small (D-Chittenden), Representative Rebecca White (D-Windsor) and Middlebury Selectboard member Esther Thomas. 

Hardy’s Women in U.S. Electoral Politics class prepared questions for each of the women on a variety of topics, including their decision to run for office, their policy priorities and how their own personal identities shape their politics. 

Krowinski explained how her previous work experience with organizations such as Planned Parenthood prepared her to handle controversial topics as well as how to create a safe space for people to have intimate conversations. White spoke about her own experience running for office for the first time, at age 20, with the expectation that she would lose because of her age.

Gray discussed Vermont’s history of split party elections, and how she, as a Democrat, developed trust with Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, by prioritizing open communication while asserting her own power and responsibilities rather than fighting an individual battle. 

Thomas, who also serves as a residence director at the college, spoke about the challenges of advocating for the town of Middlebury while working at the college. After, Small spoke about her job representing the most diverse community in Vermont as a white woman, as well as her personal experience as the state’s first transgender legislator. Balint, the first openly gay woman to hold her position in the Senate, followed up with how she has managed to remain positive and optimistic through what is a difficult time to be in office. 

Hinsdale finished the panel by discussing how she navigates being the only woman of color in the Vermont Senate — specifically how assumptions of her ethnicity by others have assigned responsibility to her for certain issues. 

Hardy, who previously worked in the college budget office, decided to create a Women in U.S. Electoral Politics class based on her work as executive director of Emerge Vermont, an organization that trains women to run for public office. Hardy designed the women in politics panel to provide examples of impressive female leaders in the Vermont government. 

“Part of training women to run is to be able to see women who’ve run and been successful in politics,” Hardy said. 

When Hardy isn’t in her Axinn classroom, she can be found working in the legislature in Montpelier. Because the college is part of the senator’s district, she said it is helpful for her to walk into a room twice a week and hear from her own constituents as it helps her be in touch with the Middlebury College community.

“One of the most important parts of teaching the class is the ability to be grounded in what actually is going on with people in my district,” Hardy said. 

Hinsdale also spoke about the importance of listening to the community by emphasizing how paramount local government is. She also emphasized the importance of creating more seats at the table, so people have the room to advocate for themselves and be advocates for others. 

“Lead where you want to be buried,” Hinsdale said. “Where do you want to make a difference? Where do you want people to remember you and the impact that you had?”

Hinsdale, Gray and Balint have each previously expressed interest in running for a Congressional seat should one arise, sparking speculation this week after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced his retirement after nearly 50 years in office. Vermont has never sent a woman to Congress.

Editor’s Note: Ruth Hardy is married to Middlebury College Professor of Film and Media Culture Jason Mittell, who is the Campus’ academic advisor

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