ST. ALBANS — Democrat Molly Gray is running for lieutenant governor because she wants to bring a new generation to Vermont.
She grew up in Newbury, Vermont, and has been a college athlete, an appeals court clerk and an assistant attorney general.
To help readers and voters understand who she is and what she believes is best for Vermont, we interviewed Gray earlier this week. Watch the interview on our Facebook page. Here’s what she had to say.
After college, Gray spent time working for the International Committee of the Red Cross. What lessons did she learn abroad can she apply to her work in Vermont?
“I want to answer your question, but I also want to reflect on my own story,” she said, during her interview with the Messenger.
After making sure to describe her childhood growing up on a Vermont dairy and vegetable farm, Gray explained that at the ICRC’s Washington D.C. office, she met with congressional staff to talk about, and find solutions for, humanitarian issues, like the conditions of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and sexual violence against women.
“At a time when my own brother was serving in the Marine Corps, there was a moment when I think, as many Vermonters feel, I wanted to serve and serve in a way that was maybe more national or global,” she said.
During her time with the ICRC, Gray also led missions to Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yugoslavia and Uganda. Gray said spending time in countries experiencing crisis taught her how to handle the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“I learned that we have to focus on need,” she said. “When we focus on need, we’re able to adapt our response to those needs: childcare, broadband, access to food and housing. I know from working in crisis is that you have to put political party aside and really focus on putting people at the forefront.”
On the campaign trail, Gray has spoken often about the need to expand access to broadband in Vermont. If elected, how, as lieutenant governor, will she get this done?
For Gray, the “rural internet-ification” of Vermont is an urgent issue because it’s tied to personal health and wellbeing, as well as the state’s economic future.
“During this pandemic, lack of access to broadband has inhibited access to online learning, telemedicine, remote work and basic public safety and health information,” she said.
Gray spoke mostly about the work other people would need to do to get this done, rather than what she would personally do. She also admitted that expanding broadband internet access would take federal support and years of planning.
“In this moment we have to work with our congressional delegation because let’s face it, we don’t have enough money in our general fund to close the broadband gap here in Vermont,” she said. “We need to obtain federal funding and then work with our communications union districts to know where the need is.”
Gray is a graduate of two institutions of higher education in Vermont, the University of Vermont and Vermont Law School. In recent months, COVID-19 has caused institutions of higher education to suffer financially. What needs to be done to support Vermont’s colleges and universities during this time?
Gray started off answering this question not by talking about her time in college, but about her time in the state’s K-12 system. She plugged Newbury Elementary School, where she said her town still hosts Town Meeting Day.
When she returned to the topic of higher education, it was to say these institutions are missing what she called a “pipeline” from their classrooms to good paying jobs in Vermont communities.
She turned the question about funding for higher education during COVID-19 into a way to talk about her overarching message about the state’s demographic challenges.
“If we’re going to address this demographic challenge of keeping a generation here, we need to make investments in our state colleges and in CCV [Community College of Vermont],” she said.
Though Gray did not address how these investments would be made or where they would come from, she did say as lieutenant governor, she would work to bring employers and students together by making sure her office has an “open door policy.”
“We need to talk to our graduates...and then talk to our employers, so that they’re helping us design solutions to our higher education challenges and make sure we get this pipeline,” she said. “I see the Office of Lieutenant Governor as a way to bring folks together, to be a platform and a conduit for addressing these bigger issues.”
A constitutional duty of the lieutenant governor is to be able to step into the role of governor should the need arise.
Since Gray has never before held public office, we asked: what does she expect to have to learn or understand about the job if she is elected?
In response, Gray listed off her resume, citing her work with the Red Cross, her job clerking for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and her time spent as an Assistant Attorney General as reasons why she would be ready to take on the job of governor.
“I know what it’s like to work in times of crisis, in places of crisis,” she said. “I know what it’s like to work with small businesses, having grown up in one. I know what it’s like to go through our school system and to bring diverse groups together to truly get things done and to problem solve.”
Over the last few weeks, Gray and her competitor, Republican Scott Milne, have spent debates attacking each other’s voting records and finger-pointing at each other’s campaign donors. Is Gray worried at all about voters’ perceptions of the lieutenant governor race?
Gray answered the question by saying she doesn’t have time for personal attacks and divisiveness because that tactic is not the Vermont way.
“The reason I got into this race was to help Vermont address the challenges we face right now,” she said. “That’s what this campaign has been about. And on top of that, helping us recover stronger from COVID-19.”
During a Sept. 24 debate between Gray and Milne, which was hosted by VTDigger, Gray turned a question from a reader about her voting record into a question for Milne about why he hasn’t attended any of the community forums she has invited him to.
“I have all the invitations here with me,” she said, holding up a manila folder.
In her interview with us, Gray maintained that her campaign has always been about the issues and will continue to be conducted that way.
“I could not be more proud of the work that we’ve done throughout this campaign to bring Vermonters together,” she said.