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Vt. Gov. Candidate Hallquist Talks Health Care, High-Speed Internet

  • Vermont gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist answers a question during an editorial board meeting in West Lebanon, N.H., on Oct. 24, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • During an editorial board meeting in West Lebanon, N.H., on Oct. 24, 2018, Vermont gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist talks about how wiring the state for fiber Internet would not only improve the state's economy but would also affect climate change with more efficient electric usage. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2018

West Lebanon — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist didn’t mince words when asked on Wednesday about reports that the Trump administration is considering defining gender as a biological condition determined by a person’s sex organs at birth, suggesting it was only the latest affront from President Donald Trump.

“What you’re seeing is the classic work of a despot,” said Hallquist, a former utility executive and the first transgender gubernatorial candidate nominated by a major party in any state.

“I’m kind of glad to be part of the first group to be targeted to be wiped out by this president,” Hallquist said during a Wednesday interview with Valley News editors and reporters in which she compared the Trump administration’s efforts to the Germans putting transgender people in concentration camps during World War II. “I certainly don’t have the option to sit back and watch.”

“The best antidote for political depression is activism,” she said. “So I’m pretty pumped and pretty energized right now, and I’m like, ‘Bring it on, Don.’ ”

The 62-year-old Hyde Park resident is seeking to unseat Gov. Phil Scott, a first-term Republican.

Hallquist’s proposals for Vermont’s future include teaming up with other states to establish a Medicare for All health care model; expanding fiber-optic internet to the state’s rural areas; raising the minimum wage; and reducing the prison population by getting treatment and assistance to inmates who are imprisoned for reasons related to mental illness, homelessness and addiction.

The lesson from former Gov. Peter Shumlin’s failed push for single-payer health care in Vermont is “Don’t do it by yourself,” she said.

To move to a Medicare for All model, which Hallquist said would save money on administrative costs, she would work with a union of other states such as California, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington and Colorado to create a large enough pool of participants to make it economically feasible.

Though she said such a shift will not happen overnight, it’s an important change to make because health care costs are too high as things stand now.

“This is clearly not working,” she said. “We’re going to fix that one together.”

As an interim measure, Hallquist said, she would immediately support legislative efforts to pass a universal primary care bill, which she said would help curb health care costs by ensuring that Vermonters have access to preventive care.

As with health care, Hallquist said she would work with other states and Canada to solve climate change. Though she didn’t advocate for a carbon tax, citing the effect it could have on low-income residents, Hallquist said she would move the state toward its renewable energy goals.

Expanding fiber-optic internet would help the state achieve those goals by giving consumers greater control of their energy usage, she said. Other solutions include investments in energy storage and grid expansion, she said.

The expansion of fiber-optic internet would also benefit the state’s rural economies, Hallquist said on Wednesday, one day after Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Vermont’s bond rating from Aaa to Aa1 due to slow economic growth caused by an aging population, unfunded pensions and retiree health care liabilities.

Hallquist would expand fiber by working with the Legislature to pass laws allowing electric utilities to hang fiber-optic cables on their poles, she said.

“Fiber is the answer,” she said. “It’s the only answer in order to get Vermonters to be able to be in the 21st century.”

Also to attract and retain young people, Hallquist said, she would focus on loan forgiveness programs and free college tuition to anyone living in poverty. She said she also would make investments in child care.

To support the state’s lowest-paid workers, Hallquist said she would support a gradual ramp up to a $15-per-hour minimum wage by 2024.

“This is about helping those people that need it the most,” she said.

She said that there once was a time when people could work at grocery stores or coffee shops and earn enough to raise a family.

“We’re so far away from that,” she said.

The state also needs to make changes in the way it houses prisoners, Hallquist said.

“We should not be sending our prisoners to out-of-state prisons, especially for profit,” she said.

Instead, the state ought to find ways to reduce the prison population by improving treatment of mental illness and addiction and promptly finding housing for inmates who are ready to be released.

“We need to make the changes so we don’t need to house them anymore,” she said.

Hallquist may have a steep climb to the state’s highest office. A VPR-Vermont PBS poll published on Monday found that Hallquist trails Scott, with 28 percent of voters saying they’d vote for her and 42 percent saying they’d vote for Scott. But, of the 495 people who answered the question about the governor’s race, 22 percent of the said they still were undecided.

But Hallquist said if she were elected, she looks forward to confronting Trump when he might meet with new governors.

“I plan on making him very uncomfortable,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.