Earlier this past week a young woman who represents a House district in Bennington county announced she was withdrawing from the November election contest. Just last week she won the Democratic nomination for a third term. Her skin is dark and a while back she spoke with me about having received a number racial comments and threats online. Apparently now she has decided to pull out of the race entirely because of continuing concerns regarding the impact of these threats on her family, and especially on the safety of her bi-racial young son.

I am extremely disappointed and angry that this has happened: disappointed at loosing the skills of this bright young woman and angry that someone’s cruel thoughtlessness caused her to leave the race. This is not just an issue for Bennington, it is a loss for the entire state. She always had valuable input, wise comments and a good view of the role of the legislature in efforts to make Vermont better. A young mother and social justice worker, she brought much that was good to our work at the statehouse. Her input will be missed.

It is hard to believe racism could be the reason for someone to withdraw from anything here in Vermont. But it is. Her husband reports the police told him they would not begin an investigation without more evidence.

No one in this state should experience derogatory racial comments, racial harassment or threats. The racism and hostility expressed toward this Bennington County family makes me angry, and ready to take action. Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery in its state constitution. Vermont sent a higher percentage of eligible volunteer soldiers to the Civil War than any other state. Anti slavery societies were common across our state. Church records all over Vermont record 150 years of sermons on the evils of treating people differently because of the color of their skin.

Presently we think of our state as progressive- leaning, with a long history of social justice leadership. But in this incident, we see the open hatred that reflects the extremism movement growing in other parts of the country. This cannot be allowed in Vermont.

Our state needs the difficult conversations about race, about whether there is institutional racism here, about whether there really is equal inclusion here and what it means to be diverse in Vermont. We all need to learn more about racism and be able to make sure it does not happen in our state.

Sen. Carolyn Branagan is from Georgia, Vt.