Madeleine Kunin: 3 qualified women running for the same seat

Patrick Leahy, left, will not seek reelection to the U.S. Senate next year, and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch is running to succeed. him. Three women, so far, have shown interest in Vermont's only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Photos by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Editor's note: This commentary is by former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, a Democrat and the first woman to serve as the governor of the state of Vermont.

A small political time bomb exploded in Vermont when Sen. Patrick Leahy announced last week that he would not seek reelection to the U.S. Senate. 

People had been speculating for months about Leahy: “Will he or won’t he step down?”

So it was not a total surprise. And yet it was still earth-shaking. Leahy had been our senator, it seemed, forever.

Then the expected occurred. No sooner had Leahy opened the gate to the Senate when Peter Welch jumped in to try to walk through it. Now Welch’s House seat was up for grabs.

Vermonters have not seen an open congressional seat in years and not an open Senate seat in almost half a century.

Vermont women have had a good reason to be chagrined. Vermont is the only state in the nation never to have sent a woman to Congress.

“Ouch, that hurts,” I say to myself, as the founder of Emerge Vermont, designed to elect more Democratic women. This is our chance to delete that embarrassing fact from the state’s resume.

The result is good news and bad news.

The good news is that there are three highly qualified Democratic women ready, willing and, yes, able to win Vermont’s lone House seat. For years, we’ve been waiting for them. They all went through the Emerge program. Each one is a strong candidate.

But, now, we have a problem. Sen. Becca Balint, president of the Senate, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray all have their eyes on the same House seat.

Things may change, of course, between now and election year 2022. But at the moment, we have an embarrassment of riches. I never thought in the early years of Emerge that there would be so many viable female candidates running for the same office.

Upon reflection, I shouldn’t be surprised. It may be a healthy dilemma facing the voters. Competition within one gender is not a new political phenomenon. The difference is that in the past competing candidates were usually all male.

Now that we have qualified women running for the same seat, we are shocked. But remember, we encouraged these women to run, and they listened. We’re now paying part of the price of success. 

That is still good news in the long run. Democracy thrives when voters have more qualified candidates to choose from. That’s still progress.

Editor's note: While Sen. Patrick Leahy's seat in the U.S. Senate has not been open for almost half a century, a careful reader points out that the other seat was open twice — when Bob Stafford retired and Jim Jeffords was elected, and when Jeffords stepped down and Bernie Sanders was elected.

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Madeleine May Kunin

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