Politics

Becca Balint, the Vermont Senate’s self-proclaimed ‘peacemaker,’ wants to take her negotiating tactics to Washington

Photo illustration by Natalie Williams. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

When Vermont lawmakers in 2021 hatched an initial plan to address the state’s looming pension crisis, state employees rang out a resounding “no.”

Spearheaded by House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, the proposed solution would have cut employees’ benefits, raised their retirement age and demanded greater employee contributions in an attempt to backfill a shortfall ballooning into the billions of dollars. State employees and teachers unions revolted, and Krowinski was caught in their crosshairs.

That’s when Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint — a former teacher-turned-legislator from Brattleboro — quietly stepped in. She took Krowinski out of the embattled Statehouse, and the two leaders, only months into their new positions, went for a walk to talk it out.

While Lt. Gov. Molly Gray had been loud in her disparagement of the House plan, blasting out a statement against it days after it went public, Balint had publicly stayed mum. One day after Gray’s statement, the Senate leader posted what appeared to be an unscripted cellphone video to Facebook, calling the situation “very complicated” but making no promises.

Within days, Balint officially came out against the plan, and Krowinski walked back a commitment to resolve the issue by the end of the session.

Together, they had worked to develop a pension task force that would convene over the course of a year to develop a solution. Vitally, union leaders — who had suggested the task force model — would have a seat at the table this time.

What resulted after Balint’s intervention was undoubtedly a slower process; it took an entire extra year to hack a solution. But in the end, lawmakers reached an agreement and earned the blessings of the unions. The resulting bill had such broad support that tripartisan members of both chambers unanimously voted to uphold it after Gov. Phil Scott vetoed it in May.

In an interview late last month, Balint said both she and Krowinski had been advised to continue kicking the can down the road — as many legislative leaders and governors before them had done — and leave the $3 billion liability to another Legislature to solve. Krowinski said she pondered: When legislators a decade from now look back, what will they have wanted us to do?

Balint said she responded to doubters, “No, I fundamentally believe that if people can get through all of this really bad feeling, and we come together, we can get it.”

In the 15 months since, the pension blow-up has taken on new meaning. Balint and Gray, two central characters of the episode, are now rivals campaigning in the Democratic primary for Vermont’s lone seat in the U.S. House.

The roles they each played last spring have proven to be a key litmus test in the primary race. The week Balint kept quiet was not forgotten by the Vermont State Employees’ Association, which has endorsed Gray for standing with the unions. But Balint and her allies contend that she did the work behind the scenes to find a solution, and stuck it out until the final pension plan made it over the finish line.

“There is a role for advocacy, right? There's a role for standing up for an issue. It's very different from having a hard conversation about the next step,” Balint told VTDigger. “​​The work of leading is actually doing a lot of work day in and day out … and I did not see (Gray) engage on the issue of pensions other than that press release.”

In a primary race where both Democrats have vowed to vote similarly on key policy issues put before the U.S. House, Balint points to her and Gray’s respective roles in the Senate chamber — she as a gentle but persistent negotiator, and Gray as master of ceremonies — as the major difference between them. But Balint’s negotiating tactics haven’t always proven successful, and on the campaign trail, her punches haven’t always been gentle.

It’s all strategy

How Balint navigated the 2021 pension debacle is an example of a leadership style she and her colleagues say is unique to her. In top roles — as majority leader for two terms starting in 2017 and as president pro tempore since 2021 — she has not twisted arms in order to wrangle her caucus. Instead, she has touted a “peacemaking” strategy.

“We have a very limited view and sense of what good leadership looks like in this country, right?” she pondered in a recent appearance on Slate’s “How To” podcast. “It is about a fighter. It’s somebody brash. It’s someone who’s going to burn it down. They’re going to take it to the mat. They’re going to fight.”

Per the podcast episode’s title, Balint was instructing listeners on “How To Run for Office Without Being an A**hole.”

“I certainly was criticized over my career that I wasn’t going to be able to do it my way, and that I was going to have to throw more elbows consistently," she continued. Balint paraphrased what a colleague, state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Burlington, once said about her: "Sometimes you show up as a fighter, sometimes you show up as a defender, and sometimes you show up as a peacemaker. And you have to be able to move between those three modes."

Balint “is not a bull in a China shop” in her legislative negotiating tactics “even though she has this strong moral core,” according to Peter Sterling. Sterling worked alongside Balint while she was the Senate’s majority leader and he was chief of staff to then-Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe.

“She was never an arm-twister, like, ‘Do this or else.’ Those words never came out of her mouth. That's not her style,” he said. “She never browbeat people. It was really more coming from a place of positivity.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, expressed her support for the people of Ukraine at a vigil in March. Photo by Riley Robinson/VTDigger

Balint told VTDigger that her ethos as a leader dates back to her time as a rock climbing instructor at the Farm & Wilderness Foundation, a Quaker-based summer program located in Plymouth, in the 1990s. Quakers believe that everyone has within them an “inner light,” or inner goodness. Balint said that during silent worship at camp, she would look at the people around her and think about “the ways in which I was misunderstanding somebody because I couldn't see that goodness in them.”

“If you believe that there is that in everyone, then you have work to do to try and find it,” she said. “That was when I became a much more, I think, mindful leader.”

Balint’s first-floor Statehouse office serves as a sort of hub during Vermont’s legislative session. When you enter through the massive pine door, you’re likely to be greeted by Balint’s chief of staff, Carolyn Wesley, who will offer you a snack.

The snacks, the walks — they’re not intended to be a gimmick. It’s all strategy. Wesley said Balint “really understood the importance of person-to-person connection — to go meet someone where they're at, whether that's going to their home or going out to their favorite restaurant.”

“That's a big part of what feeds her and gives her joy — because this is the kind of person she wants to be in the world — and also her understanding of how change happens and how you get things done. It’s through relationships with people,” Wesley said.

Balint has had the fortune of caucusing with, then leading, the majority party in Vermont’s Statehouse — and not by the ultra-slim margins that Democrats are working with in Washington, D.C. Oftentimes, she doesn’t need to give Republicans a seat at the table in order to get bills past the finish line.

But Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, who served as Senate minority leader at the same time Balint served as majority leader, said she still did. When working with Republicans, he said, Balint’s “approach has always been to have conversations with the other side and give respect.”

There were times when it would have been more politically convenient not to, he said, such as when Republican senators were absent on days with controversial floor votes. Balint would talk to Republican leaders and delay the votes until everyone was present.

“It's a difficult thing to do when you know your vote count is your way if there's a Republican or two missing, but she was always respectful of the process and had a desire to make sure that both sides were present for their respective vote counts,” he said. “So I give her credit for that.”

Not settling for less

Balint has cited her work to protect reproductive rights in Vermont as one of her proudest legislative achievements.

For decades, national conservative operatives were orchestrating the downfall of Roe v. Wade, which offered federal protections to abortion access. After Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, some legislators saw the writing on the wall and knew the end of Roe was likely approaching.

Vermont lawmakers, including Balint, got to work on state-level abortion protections in 2019. They passed Act 47, an expansive reproductive rights law, and shepherded Proposal 5, also known as the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, through the yearslong legislative approval process. Should a majority of voters approve the amendment at the polls in November, Proposal 5 would enshrine the right to access abortion and contraceptives in Vermont’s state constitution

Even across party lines, Vermont legislators in recent memory have consistently stood in favor of abortion rights. But Balint told VTDigger that securing legislative approval of Prop 5 was no walk in the park. She said that in the proposal’s early stages, some legislators — even from within her own Democratic caucus — doubted the necessity of codifying Roe at the state level.

“I want people to understand that some of the women and more progressive men had to do some work with members of the caucus who didn't feel like this was something that we needed to do right now,” she said.

Sterling cited the fight for Prop 5 as an example of Balint taking “a really principled stand,” not settling for less than codifying Roe.

Last month, the legislators who championed Prop 5 were vindicated. The U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote overturned Roe, as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, another key case precedent upholding federal abortion protections.

‘I don't have a magic wand’

Balint’s relationship-building strategy hasn’t always pushed her own legislative proposals across the finish line. 

Before the 2022 session even began, Balint took a stand on Covid-19 protections, vowing to take legislative action early in the year if Scott refused to impose a statewide mask policy. In January, she publicly pushed key lawmakers to move ahead, then retreated a week later, admitting that there was “no path forward” for the measure.

A 2022 proposal to impose ranked choice voting in Vermont met a similar fate. Balint and other legislative heavy-hitters went all-in, cosponsoring S.229, which would have established ranked choice voting in Vermont’s federal elections, and appearing in a January television ad from the Vermont Public Interest Research Group backing the proposal. But the bill received just a single hearing and never made it out of committee.

Also this year, Balint threw her support behind a bill that would have ended qualified immunity for police officers. Doing so is a major policy goal of police reform advocates, who say that the legal doctrine often denies victims of police brutality a path into court for justice.

Balint signed her name onto S.254 as a cosponsor — a strong signal for a Senate president to send. Even so, she told reporters in April, “I don’t have a magic wand.”

As in other states that have attempted to pass similar bills, proponents of S.254 reported facing a “unified front” of law enforcement officials and groups that opposed the bill. Some dubbed it “the blue wall.”

But S.254’s faltering can’t be attributed to law enforcement groups’ persistent lobbying alone. According to Balint, there was resistance from legislators themselves.

“I wouldn't characterize it as just a situation where people buckled to pressure … from law enforcement,” Balint responded when asked about the bill during a debate hosted last month by Vermont Public. “There were lots of people within that committee and on the Senate floor who felt like we needed more time to really understand the issue itself.”

Balint entrusted longtime Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, to shepherd the bill through the Senate Committee on Judiciary, which Sears chairs, and then through a Senate floor vote. Together, they tried to coax their apprehensive colleagues onto their side. Sears told VTDigger in a recent interview that he and Balint “spent a lot of time with certain legislators.”

One of those was Balint’s district-mate, Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham. For the bill to get anywhere, White’s support was nonnegotiable. Passing the bill through the five-member Judiciary Committee came down to her vote.

In those private conversations with White, Sears said he and Balint weren’t so much urging White to change her mind, but to keep an open one.

“Sen. White certainly has been a strong supporter of law enforcement over the years,” Sears said. “But we obviously worked very closely with her on what she would accept and how to deal with it.”

White told VTDigger that the conversations between her, Balint and Sears were “always civil and respectful,” and Balint herself was “never pushy about it.”

“I don't ever remember there being any anger in any of those conversations, or any judgment at all. We disagreed on some of the very basic issues involved in it,” White said. “I think all of us changed our minds a little bit as we went along and learned more.”

Nevertheless, Sears and Balint failed to persuade White. The committee pared the bill down to a legislative report on the topic and passed it by a 3-2 vote, with Sears, White and Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, voting yes.

Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, speaks to the Vermont Senate on the final day of the biennium May 12. Photo by Riley Robinson/VTDigger

Sears didn’t hide his frustration when the Senate first voted to pass the watered-down bill in March. “What we come to you with today is a watered-down version. I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” he said on the floor.

By the time the House passed the bill and kicked it back to the Senate in April, Sears said the original intent of the bill had been “flooded.”

“What happened is what always happens in this building,” Balint said at the time. “You do the best you can with the people you have at the table. You do the best you can with the information that you have on the ground.”

At the Vermont Public debate, Balint reiterated that “we need to end qualified immunity, and I sponsored that bill because of my belief in that.” She vowed to take the fight to Congress, which has for years been wracked with intense debate, particularly within the Democratic Party, over how or whether to legislate police reforms.

Paid leave stumbles

At a VTDigger debate on June 28, Gray seized on another issue that has vexed the Legislature throughout Balint’s years in leadership: paid family and medical leave.

While Gray herself has acknowledged the barriers to funding a statewide paid leave model, she pressed Balint on why the Senate had not delivered on longstanding promises to pass a paid leave bill that could be signed into law.

The Legislature under Balint’s leadership attempted to do so multiple times. In 2018, lawmakers approved a statewide, mandatory paid leave system funded by a payroll tax, but Scott promptly vetoed the bill.

Democratic leaders vowed to make a second attempt the next year, knowing that they would need veto-proof majorities in both chambers in order to overcome the governor’s opposition. But the 2019 attempt, which was paired with a Senate-led effort to raise the state’s minimum wage, collapsed in the final days of the session amid disagreement between then-House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-Grand Isle, and Ashe, then the Senate pro tem. Johnson sent House members home for the year without reaching a final agreement, signaling a House out of step with the Senate, despite clear Democratic majorities in both chambers.

There was one last try in 2020, Balint’s final year as Senate majority leader before she rose to pro tem in 2021. The paid leave bill passed both chambers, but was again vetoed by Scott. The House failed to override the governor’s veto by two votes.

Responding to Gray on the debate stage, Balint said her chamber had done all it could to advance paid leave.

“We passed it multiple times in the Senate,” the pro tem said. “And as you know, you need both chambers. You need a governor who's willing to do the work.”

White told VTDigger that it’s unfair to place the Legislature’s failure to pass paid leave on Balint’s shoulders alone. Balint worked hard on it, she said, and “regardless of what the LG thinks, there are 180 of us” in the Legislature.

“I think that is a bogus question, and I think it's a taunting question, and I think that it's inappropriate to keep bringing it up. It's just inappropriate,” White said.

Playing hardball

In addition to paid leave, Balint and Gray see eye-to-eye on several legislative issues potentially up for Congress’ consideration. Both pledge support for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Both support codifying abortion rights in federal law. Both want to ban high-capacity assault weapons.

But despite their common ground on policy, Balint doesn’t appear to be offering snacks or taking strolls with Gray on the campaign trail.

In recent weeks, Gray and Balint have taken public an argument over so-called super PACs and their potential involvement in the primary race. Also known as independent-expenditure political action committees, super PACs can raise and spend unlimited sums of money to campaign for or against candidates, so long as they don’t directly communicate with campaigns.

As of early June, Balint’s camp appeared to be winking at super PACs through a campaign tactic known as redboxing. That’s when campaigns publicly post on their website language like “voters need to see” or “voters need to read,” followed by campaign rhetoric they’d like to see in an advertisement for their candidate or against their opponent. 

Campaign finance experts confirmed to VTDigger last month that Balint’s site appeared to be using the tactic. The page read, “Primary voters need to hear that Becca is the candidate in this race who has delivered and been a champion for rural Vermonters on the issues that matter most.” 

Balint’s campaign manager, Natalie Silver, denied the use of the tactic, telling VTDigger last month, “If you don’t like our writing — sorry.”

Gray’s camp lunged at the revelation, accusing Balint of “stunning” hypocrisy after she had vowed to denounce super PAC involvement in the race. Balint’s team hit back, pointing out that Gray had benefited from super PAC involvement during her 2020 lieutenant gubernatorial race; that she accepted a $5,000 contribution from corporate donor American Crystal Sugar this year; and that she sought an endorsement from the Guarding Against Pandemics PAC.

The back-and-forth came to a head at VTDigger’s June congressional debate. When invited to ask one another questions, Gray asked Balint to answer for her campaign’s tactics. Balint took the opportunity to turn the tables on Gray.

“I have never benefited from a super PAC. There is only one candidate up here who has benefited from any super PAC spending, and that is Lt. Gov. Molly Gray in the 2020 election,” Balint said. “Tens of thousands of dollars were spent to support her campaign by a super PAC and there was no denunciation at that time.”

In a recent interview, Balint, unprompted, brought up her top rival multiple times. All of Balint’s own work — her votes, her stances, her justifications, her interviews — from her years in the Senate is out there for voters to examine, she said. That’s not the case with Gray, who has not held legislative office and who Balint has dubbed a “corporatist Democrat.”

Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, right, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders listen as Gov. Phil Scott speaks about the nursing crisis at a press conference at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Jan. 3. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

“We don't know who she will be when tested because she hasn't been tested,” Balint said. “She's 18 months into a job that is largely ceremonial, and that is the role of lieutenant governor — but I feel so strongly that Vermonters deserve to have somebody who has been tested over and over and has a record.”

Throughout the primary cycle, Balint’s campaign has been determined to secure high-profile endorsements. In late March, it broke with longstanding tradition, gathering dozens of legislators on the Statehouse steps who threw their support behind Balint’s run en masse.

The Legislature was deep in the throes of legislative session, with months of work and mounds of bills yet to complete. Typically, lawmakers keep electoral politics out of the Statehouse until they’re finished with their constitutional duties of the year. Inside the building were Gray and state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, who was also running for the seat at the time.

In May, Ram Hinsdale dropped out of the race and threw her support behind Balint. The development was a major boost for Balint’s camp. As Silver said at the time, “math is math” and “having more candidates in the race is harder.” 

Since then, Balint has secured another major endorser to counteract the Gray campaign’s ties to Vermont’s senior U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy: National progressive powerhouse and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders backed Balint last week.

Pushing from the inside

Wesley came on as Balint’s chief of staff shortly before Balint was confirmed to her role as president pro tempore in 2021. But they go back further. Wesley first heard of her future boss in 2014, eavesdropping on a conversation at Three Penny Taproom in downtown Montpelier.

A woman from Brattleboro, the customers gossiped, was challenging Windham County’s two incumbent senators, both Democrats, for one of their seats. One was Sen. Peter Galbraith; the other — as fate would have it — was White. This newcomer, Balint, didn’t have a shot, they said.

Sitting in the bar, overhearing doubtful chatter about her chances, Wesley saw the similarities between Balint and her own trailblazing mother, Rep. Julie Peterson, who was the first woman to represent Brattleboro in the Statehouse in the 1980s. Wesley took out her checkbook and wrote a $25 check to Balint’s camp. She didn’t know that she would eventually serve as chief of staff to Vermont’s first woman and openly gay pro tem.

In the introduction to The Girl in the Yellow Pantsuit, a book of columns originally published in the Brattleboro Reformer, Balint writes that she felt called to politics from a young age but didn’t see a path in. Her family didn’t have wealth or political connections, and she “didn’t know of any ‘out’ gay politicians except for San Francisco city council member Harvey Milk. And he’d been assassinated.”

“It seemed like an impossibility, so I ignored the call,” she wrote, until decades later — after she earned two Master's degrees, had a full teaching career and raised her two children through their youngest years.

If she prevails in the August primary and the November general election, Balint would make history again. Vermont is the only state in the nation that has never elected a woman to Congress. It also hasn’t sent an openly gay lawmaker to Washington.

“I realized early on that if you wanted to change the system, you had to work from inside,'' Wesley’s mother, Peterson, told the Christian Science Monitor in 1987. “If you have a tin can that's dented, how do you get the dents out? You can't pull from the outside. You must push from the inside.''

Much of Balint’s work in her nearly eight-year tenure in the Vermont Senate has been pushing the tin can from the inside.

There are tangible examples of Balint’s impact on the Vermont Senate’s culture, such as her work to reform the chamber’s sexual harassment policy in the wake of the #MeToo movement in 2018. But there are also subtler changes she’s enacted as a leader, such as enforcing the classic teacher maxim barring anyone from speaking twice before everyone has had a chance to speak once. Instead of in a classroom, though, she applied the rule to caucus meetings.

Stuck to Wesley’s computer monitor in her office is a sticky note with a quote from a 2018 Seven Days profile of Balint. “What I want to do is very deliberately but respectfully change culture over time," she had told the newspaper. It serves as a daily reminder to Wesley, who said that Balint’s fingerprints on the Vermont Senate will remain after she’s gone.

“Like always, in real meaningful transformational change, you want to get to a place where it's not about the individual. It's about a system and a positive culture that is self sustaining,” Wesley said.

There has also been a clear shift in Balint’s relationship with Krowinski, compared to pro tem-speaker dynamics of years past. Even with clear Democratic majorities in both chambers, prior legislative sessions were characterized by brutal infighting between the Senate and House.

“There have been times where previous people in those roles, they stopped talking to each other. They were not working together in any way,” Wesley said. For Balint, “that was certainly never something that was even on the table as a possibility.”

Having already worked with one another as House and Senate majority leaders, Krowinski said she and Balint had a strong relationship heading into their respective roles as speaker and pro tem, and that “we have different styles, but our styles click together.”

They also stepped into their respective roles helming the two chambers under historically trying circumstances. In January 2021, the Legislature was working remotely, with the vast majority of Vermonters not yet vaccinated against Covid-19. The state was flush with pandemic aid from the federal government, and legislators were overwhelmed with competing interests demanding cash: vaccine deployment, testing sites, public schools, the pension shortfall, a worsening housing crunch. 

The crises were also existential. Balint’s first day as president pro tempore was Jan. 6, 2021. In Washington, D.C., protesters were storming the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 election. Krowinski said it was “a really turbulent place” to step into.

Krowinski remembers sitting with Balint in the otherwise empty Senate chamber in the mostly empty Statehouse in Montpelier. Thousands of miles away, rioters threatened a hallmark of democracy, the peaceful transition of power.

“I just remember sitting with her in the Senate seats, having a conversation of, ‘How could this be happening?’ and reflecting on how important our job is right now in this moment,” Krowinski told VTDigger.

Montpelier is not Washington

Should she win in November, Balint would head to work in that same Capitol that was stormed on Jan. 6. And she would work alongside colleagues who fueled some Americans’ doubts in the validity of the 2020 election.

When asked how she would work across the aisle, Balint has several times offered the same refrain: She has worked with lawmakers who opposed her right to be married to her wife. She didn’t have a choice. She asserts that she can build those bridges, because she has already had to.

“I hope for her well-being that going into this culture … is what I know she wants it to be, which is her belief in people, her belief in relationships, her belief that she could somehow, in her corner of it, move the needle on that culture,” Wesley said. “I don’t worry for her, because she’s a tough gal, but I know it will be dispiriting.”

Even with Balint’s track record of reaching across the aisle in Montpelier, Vermont Republicans make a point of straying from the national Republican Party’s mainstream ideals. Benning wondered about “how much patience she would have” for some of her potential congressional colleagues.

“It's not a fault of hers,” he said. “It's just that, when you run into people who are so different from you, trying to figure out how to engage and have a conversation is difficult. And I don't know to what extent her patience level would be able to survive that.”

While she has been blessed with a Democratic supermajority as Senate pro tem, Balint has had to contend with a Republican governor, who holds veto power over every bill that hits his desk. Indeed, Scott has issued a record number of vetoes in state history in his time as governor.

As the governor publicly maintained throughout this most recent legislative session, spokesperson Jason Maulucci told VTDigger that Balint and Scott have kept a “cordial relationship” over the years, and “most of the things that happen in Montpelier are done collaboratively.”

“Vetoes obviously get attention. But you know, over 90% of bills that are passed are signed. There's a lot of good work in collaboration with the administration and members of the legislature,” Maulucci said. “But, I mean, getting things done when you're in a supermajority is certainly a lot easier than if you have a two-vote margin to work with.”

Should the 2022 midterms follow the trajectory of elections past, Republicans could take back majorities in Congress come November. Even if that doesn’t materialize, Democrats are operating with a razor-thin majority now, and many of their major initiatives have withered.

Should she prevail in August and November, Balint also would go from her top leadership role in the 30-member Vermont Senate to rank-and-file status in the 435-member U.S. House.

“How she reacts to a bigger pond as a much smaller fish, you know, that's a transition for anybody,” Benning said.

But he said he remained optimistic about Balint’s potential to reach across the aisle. On the final day of this year’s legislative session, when lawmakers gave their customary closing speeches, Benning stood before his Senate colleagues and acknowledged that Vermont’s first congresswoman was likely in the chamber with them. He had a challenge for whomever prevailed in November: to invite House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., out to lunch.

As he looked to Balint, Gray and Ram Hinsdale, Benning later told VTDigger, “I knew Becca was most likely to be able to follow through on that.”

Republicans haven’t been the only hurdle in the way of Democrats’ priorities in Washington. In the Senate, the procedural filibuster rule — and a select few who refuse to amend it — has kneecapped Democrats’ ability to pass major legislation. The filibuster requires a 60-vote majority in order to pass major bills, instead of a simple majority.

Balint has been vocal in her calls to rethink the rules of Washington. She said the Senate should abolish the filibuster in order to pass abortion protections and voter reforms, and it should look to expand the Supreme Court’s bench in order to counter its current conservative bend.

Nothing should be “off the table,” she told VTDigger. If rules aren’t serving the people, they should be rewritten.

“Rules were written by people. We can write them differently. We can write different rules,” she said. “We have the ability to change structures.”

Many of these questions are in the hands of the U.S. Senate — not the House, where she is campaigning to work come January. But one of Vermont’s two Senate seats could open up as soon as 2024. Balint and other congressional candidates were asked at a recent debate: Would they run for it, given the opportunity? Balint left the door open to the possibility.

“I always say, you never know what’s around the corner, so I’m not going to say,” she responded. “I’m just trying to get this incredibly audacious thing done, which is trying to get to the House. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Updated at 12:20 p.m.

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Sarah Mearhoff

About Sarah

Sarah Mearhoff is one of VTDigger's political reporters, covering the Vermont statehouse, executive branch and congressional delegation. Prior to joining Digger, she covered Minnesota and South Dakota state politics for Forum Communications' newspapers across the Upper Midwest for three years. She has also covered politics in Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she is a proud alumna of the Pennsylvania State University where she studied journalism.

Email: [email protected]

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