MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont, considered by many to be one of the most liberal states in the country with a higher-than-average percentage of women serving in the state Legislature, is the only state to have never sent a woman to Congress.
Vermont fell to the bottom of the women-in-Congress list Wednesday when Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appointed fellow Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith to temporarily succeed retiring GOP Sen. Thad Cochran; she will face at least two opponents in a nonpartisan special election in November to complete the term Cochran started, which expires in January 2021.
Former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin, a Democrat and the state’s first female chief executive, called it “a little embarrassing to be beaten out by Mississippi.”
Deb Markowitz, who served 12 years as Vermont’s secretary of state and then six as the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources under Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, said there is little turnover in the state’s congressional delegation, all of whom serve the state well.
Vermont, with a population of about 625,000, is the second-least populous state in the country, meaning it has only one at-large representative to the U.S. House.
Nevertheless, Markowitz tweeted Thursday, “We have a great delegation — but when there is a vacancy, count me in!”
Markowitz, who is now teaching at the University of Vermont, said after she tweeted that she missed public service and didn’t believe the lack of women in Congress meant the state’s voters were hostile to women.
“If the timing was right, I think you can get an awful lot done in Congress and it’s high time we had a woman representing Vermont,” she said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy was first elected to the Senate in 1974. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders was elected to the Senate in 2006, after serving in the U.S. House, the post to which he was first elected in 1990.
Vermont’s lone U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, the newcomer to the delegation, was first elected in 2006. In that race, Welch defeated his Republican opponent, former Vermont National Guard Adjutant General Martha Rainville, the first woman to lead a state national guard.
Welch, at 70, is also the youngest member of the delegation. Leahy will be 78 later this month. Sanders is 76.
Despite the lack of women in Congress, Vermont’s political bench is filled with possible female candidates. A survey of women in state legislatures shows that 40 percent of the members of the Vermont Legislature are women. The national average is just over 25 percent.
Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to say that the term started by Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi expires in 2021, not 2020.