SOUTH ROYALTON — In their quest to become the first woman to represent Vermont in Congress, Becca Balint and Molly Gray have focused on each other’s fundraising strategies.
Gray was slightly ahead of Balint in the fundraising race — $990,116 to $973,780 — as of June 30, according to documents filed by the candidates with the Federal Election Commission.
But at a forum hosted by the Vermont Law and Graduate School in South Royalton on Monday, Gray tried to make political hay on news earlier in the day that Balint’s campaign had benefited from more than $600,000 in spending. by three political action committees.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund Federal PAC, Equality PAC, and Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC paid for TV ads, digital advertising, and direct mail that endorses Balint, Seven daysa Burlington-based weekly and website, reported Monday.
Balint’s campaign said it does not seek outside spending and has no control over it.
At Monday’s forum, Balint pointed out that more than 6,500 individual donors have contributed to his campaign over the past three months. During the same period, Gray had “just over” 1,000 individual donors, Balint said.
About half of Balint’s donations in the second quarter came from people with addresses in Vermont, compared to 42% for Gray, Seven days reported.
But no matter where the money comes from, that’s a bigger problem, Balint said during Monday’s forum.
“You and I have both raised an obscene amount of money in this race, and it’s not healthy for democracy,” she said.
Gray and Balint face off in the August 9 Democratic primary for the state’s only congressional seat that Rep. Peter Welch is giving up after 16 years. Welch, a Democrat, is running for the US Senate, seeking to take the place of Senator Patrick Leahy. Leahy, 82, is retiring after serving in the Senate since 1974.
Along with Balint and Gray, Rutland physician Louis Meyers campaigns for the Democratic nomination. Meyers, who trails her opponents in fundraising and name recognition, did not attend Monday’s forum.
On the Republican side, three candidates – Liam Madden, Ericka Redic and Anya Tynio – are in the running for the Aug. 9 primary. Barbara Nolfi is the only Progressive Party candidate.
Early voting in the primaries has already begun, and more information on voting can be found at the following link: https://tinyurl.com/5386bku.
Gray, who grew up in Newbury, Vermont, was elected lieutenant governor of Vermont in November 2020. Before taking up his statewide duties, Gray, 38, served as an assistant attorney general for Vermont and worked on Welch’s Congressional staff.
Two former Vermont governors — Howard Dean and Madeleine Kunin — have endorsed Gray.
Balint, 54, moved to Vermont in 1994. She was a public school teacher before being elected to the Windham County State Senate in 2015. She was appointed Senate President pro tempore in 2021.
Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed it.
During Monday’s forum, Balint was asked how she would help the United States fulfill its Paris Agreement promise to halve emissions by 2030. In her response, Balint focused on the language used by legislators to talk about climate change.
“Vermonters feel hopeless and paralyzed by the way we talk about climate change and feel like there’s too much pressure on individuals,” Balint said. “I’m counting on the federal government to make big investments to help Vermonters get off fossil fuels.”
It’s also crucial to ensure the federal government renews soon-to-expire solar tax credits, Balint said. The current solar tax credit, which provides a 26% credit for solar systems, is set to expire in 2024 unless Congress votes to renew it.
“We’ve had a robust solar industry here in Vermont,” Balint said. “It’s going to take real money to allow ordinary people to do this, and we shouldn’t shame those who can’t so far.”
Meanwhile, Gray stressed that workforce development was key to moving from fossil fuels to renewables.
“We here in the state say we want to install solar, but we don’t actually have the manpower to do it,” Gray said. “Not only does he invest in the programs, but he also trains the workforce to do so.”
Asked about proposed revisions to the federal Farm Bill, Gray was quick to mention her family’s 4 Corners farm in Newbury, which her brothers still operate.
Congress updates the Farm Bill, which is the federal government’s primary agricultural and food policy legislation, every five years.
“I know what it’s like to raise an animal, take care of it, and then go through the slaughter process,” Gray said, decrying the practice of large-scale factory farming and linking it pollution and animal cruelty.
“One of the things you learn very quickly in the Vermont Legislature is that our scale is different,” Balint said, comparing Vermont farms to small businesses versus large farms in other states.
“We need to make farming viable by giving farmers the basic supports that all small businesses need: childcare, health care, making sure they can hire migrant workers and that those workers are protected and have safe accommodation,” Balint added.
Gray also expressed support for the federal gasoline tax exemption, which would suspend the 18-cent-per-gallon tax for three months in light of recent price increases.
“Vermonters are really hurting,” she said. “We can be champions for climate action, but we can also be champions for working families as we try to make this energy transition.”
Later in the forum, Balint pointed to Gray’s lack of legislative experience — an issue she repeatedly raised during the campaign.
“After only about eight months of your first year as lieutenant governor, you started running for that job,” Balint said.
Gray countered that as lieutenant governor, his duties included signing approved bills before they were sent to the governor. By the nature of her position, Gray said she represented the entire state, not just a single Senate district as Balint did.
Vermont Law School President Rodney Smolla closed the forum by highlighting the role that Congress will play in shaping the US response to climate change.
“Single seats in small states like Vermont are still important,” Smolla said, “but couldn’t be more important than in the times we live in.”
Frances Mize is a member of the Report for America corps. She can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3242.