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Molly Gray discusses launch of her campaign for Vermont’s at-large Congressional seat

Vermont Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Molly Gray (file)

Vermont Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray announced on Monday that she is running for Congress. Peter Welch is leaving the state’s only Congressional seat to run for the Senate. That post is open because Senator Patrick Leahy, a fellow Democrat, is retiring.

Gray, also a Democrat, interned in Leahy’s Vermont offices while in college and later worked as an aide to Congressman Welch. She was sworn in as Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor in January 2021, the only elective position she has held. Gray tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley she has a broad background in political and government work that qualifies her to serve in Congress.

We're at a new chapter, an end of an era and a beginning of a new era here in Vermont. I helped elect Congressman Welch a decade and a half ago in 2006. I helped elect him to the U.S. Congress and then I actually moved to Washington to serve Vermonters in his office. So I come to this race with a keen understanding of not only what it's like to run a federal campaign in Vermont, but also what it's like to open an office and to be there from the very beginning and to serve our state. Over the last decade and a half I've worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and with the federal government in conflict zones working to support the Geneva Conventions and human rights and U.S. compliance with those rights. I've worked through law school at Vermont Law School, serving as a bartender to get through and to make ends meet. I've also clerked for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for Vermont's judge, the second highest court system in our nation, and then served statewide as an assistant attorney general before serving Vermont as lieutenant governor. So not only do I have experience working statewide in our communities and with Vermonters in every corner of the state, but also firsthand experience working in Washington serving Vermonters. I won’t let a moment go by, there isn't a moment to waste, and if elected getting to work each day, fighting hard for every corner of Vermont for the things that we need and we have a lot of need and for the things that we believe in.

If you were elected as the congressional representative for Vermont, because in Vermont it's an at-large you represent the entire state and you're the only congressperson, would you do anything differently from what Congressman Welch has been doing? Are there issues you would prioritize differently?

We've been so well served by our congressional delegation. And we have this hole with Senator Leahy's leadership moving on in 2023 in this open seat for Vermont. We've been so well served, as I said, but we have a lot of need. And those needs existed before the pandemic. They're the needs that drove me to run for lieutenant governor. We are one of the oldest states in the nation. We have a workforce crisis that every Vermonter and every business and every sector is feeling. We have a generation, my generation, that is trying to find childcare, that's trying to take care of aging parents, that's trying to take care of kids with no paid family and medical leave. We have a lack of affordable housing. We have broadband that still isn't reaching a fourth of Vermont geographically. These needs are profound and are not going to be met by Vermont alone. So when we have an open seat like this it's really important to understand why you're running and makes my case running for every corner of Vermont, running to help address those issues, running to put our state in a place where we can truly utilize federal funding and to fight for programs are going to help rural Vermont. There's also something really special about our state that involves our leadership and it's our leadership on human rights. I'm a human rights lawyer by training. I understand, you know, our legacy of leadership from Senator Akin to Senator Leahy and Senator Sanders to now. And we need that continued leadership on voting rights, which we've done well here in Vermont despite the attacks across the country; on reproductive rights as we push to codify Roe within our Vermont constitution through reproductive liberty, and also climate action. We've been leading the nation in trying to figure out how to make sure all Vermonters can equitably participate in climate mitigation and putting ourselves on the right path forward. So Vermont's leadership is needed. Senator Leahy has been a North Star not only for Vermont but for the nation. He has been the nation's conscience. And I think that is also part of our role and part of our legacy as a state. And as a human rights lawyer, as a long time Vermonter, and lifelong Vermonter, born and raised in Newberry, born and raised right here in Vermont I'll bring that leadership bring that North Star spirit to Washington. But also getting up every day with Vermonters as my motivation fighting for the things we need and the things we believe in.

Molly Gray, part of that answer kind of brought me back retro to your campaign to Lieutenant Governor. A lot of the things echoed as issues that you brought up and talked about in your campaign then. So how can you advance them? How do you plan to advance them in Washington, DC?

The needs of Vermont we knew that they existed before the pandemic. It's why I ran for office to try to keep a generation here, bring a generation back and bring a new generation to the state. But the pandemic really laid those needs there. And let's talk about paid family and medical leave for a moment. I've talked to countless Vermonters who during the pandemic actually had to leave the workforce to provide caregiving. We have hundreds of unpaid caregivers right now because of our workforce crisis. But because we also don't have a caregiving system in place to ensure that elders can age with dignity in their homes. And so when I think about the debates that are happening right now around the Build Back Better Plan and whether or not paid family and medical leave should stay in that plan or stay out of that plan Vermont needs leaders who say unequivocally, as our congressional delegation has, that paid family and medical leave is a game changer for our small rural state. But the same argument can be made for our workforce challenges, for our housing challenges, and making sure that we're sending leadership that understands those needs and understands how that relates to what we're doing right here right now in Vermont to try to address them. So I look forward, if elected, to being that strong partner in filling this whole hole that we have in our delegation and making sure that the needs of Vermonters are met.

One point that will come up is that even if Congressman Welch is elected to be the newest senator he's going to lose his seniority as he moves into the Senate. Whoever is elected to the House is going to face the same thing. They're going to be a junior member of the House. So all of the advantages that Vermont has had with their senior congressional delegation will evaporate. How do you work with the fact that you're not going to have the advantages of seniority for basically the entire delegation except for Senator Sanders?

We're going to have to work really hard as a congressional delegation. If elected I'll certainly be doing my part as Vermont's Congresswoman. What I do know is that I bring the ability to work across the aisle, to work with a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature with a strong Progressive party. That sort of collaborative, come together, work together, get things done mentality is what Vermont's known for. I think that's what Vermonters expect and that's what Vermonters would get for me if I were elected Vermont’s congresswoman.

Well speaking of that bipartisanship why do you want to leave a state that is well known for its bipartisanship and go to DC where it's really a center of polarization right now?

I think we need more Vermont in Washington frankly and having Vermont's values is good for democracy. We need people who still are willing to come together, work together, work across the aisle, identify problems and try to solve them. And that's how I've led as lieutenant governor and that's how I would lead as Vermont’s congresswoman.

Molly, some people are saying that it is time for Vermont to elect a woman or a person of color to represent the state in Congress. Was that a factor in your decision?

I think that this is a moment where we need to tell Vermonters that if you have experience, if you believe that you have something to bring to this race, then step up, step forward and run for office. And that goes from running for Congress or running for the Senate or running for lieutenant governor or Governor all the way down the ticket. We need more voices. We need more seasoned debates. That's good for democracy and that's good for Vermont.

And the mask mandate. It’s not just a Vermont issue. It's also a federal issue. So kind of two part here. Looking at the mask mandate in Vermont how do you feel Governor Scott has handled the pandemic and the mask mandate recently? And secondarily, should the federal government and Congress be more aggressive in mandating pandemic safety measures?

The most important thing for Vermonters to know and I think Americans are also realizing is that we're not out of this pandemic yet. I would like to say we're in the fourth quarter and we're nearing the end but we're not entirely sure of that right now with the new variants coming out. And so we need to continue to encourage Vermonters and Americans to get vaccinated, to get their boosters, and to wear a mask when they're inside. I believe here in the state we've done a good job of giving communities the ability to implement mask mandates and mask guidance if they want to. But I still believe that a statewide policy and statewide guidance is the best solution. And what we will all need to know, to really know and believe is that this isn’t over. We need to continue to work hard, to stay safe, and to make sure most importantly that people get their vaccines

And as a Congressperson would you push for more federal mandates?

Um, I think we need to take things day by day and let the science guide us.

Vermont Democratic Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray is the first person to announce their candidacy for the at-large Congressional seat. Vermont has never elected a woman or person of color to represent the state in Washington.

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