Sen. Patrick Leahy’s retirement from the U.S. Senate in 2022 and Congressman Welch’s decision to run for his seat bring the opportunity for Vermonters to elect a woman to represent us in Congress for the first time.
But three key elements must be present for that to occur.
We must have a slate of strong, Democratic women to choose from, Vermont women must participate more in the campaign process, and Vermont media must cover the race with accuracy and fairness.
Speculation is rampant about which women will run. Sen. Becca Balint, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale have all expressed interest. If these women run, consider the first box checked.
In addition to voting, Vermont women must participate more in the campaign process by donating and volunteering on campaigns.
We need to support women candidates not just with our votes but also with our wallets. The Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University reported last week that in state legislative races women out-vote men, but men out-give women.
Campaign fundraising has always been difficult for women candidates. Men’s networks tend to be larger, tighter and more difficult for women candidates to access, requiring them to work harder to build their own and putting them at financial and competitive disadvantage.
We must invest in women’s leadership by donating more to the campaigns of women candidates if we want to improve our representation and ensure women have input into decision making on policies that affect us.
We must also volunteer in larger numbers to support the campaigns of women candidates. In Vermont there is a shortage of campaign volunteers. For a candidate to run a successful statewide campaign of the magnitude required to run for Congress, there must be a strong pool of volunteers and staff to run that campaign successfully.
Last, Vermont media must cover the race with accuracy and fairness. In January 2021 an open letter to the Vermont press corps signed by 50 prominent Vermonters called for the state’s media to “commit to the challenging work of reckoning with the unconscious biases that affect our public narratives every day.”
The letter points out some ways media can impact the public’s perception of women candidates, including focusing on women’s appearance or tone of voice, characterizing disagreements between women with demeaning terms and publishing more quotes from men than from women.
Since the letter was published, media outlets across the state committed to doing better. This 2022 campaign season will put those commitments to the test. For the first time our state will enjoy a competitive race among multiple qualified candidates, including several women. We will be watching to see how those women candidates are covered by the media, and whether they will be presented fairly and accurately to Vermont voters.
Electing a woman in 2022 to represent Vermont in Congress is an essential step toward improving the representation of Vermont women in government. How we get to that historic moment is also an opportunity to bring more women into the political process.
Elaine Haney is the executive director of Emerge Vermont.