Democratic Lieutenant Governor Primary Race 2020: Molly Gray
Molly Gray is a Vermont assistant attorney general and also teaches at Vermont Law School. She is among four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Molly Gray, and their interview below has been condensed and edited for clarity. VPR is interviewing all of the candidates for lieutenant governor.
Molly Gray: We are at such a crossroads here in Vermont. And the lieutenant governor's office is so uniquely placed to be a statewide platform for the issues facing our state: be it the inequity that we see in access to broadband - a fourth of Vermont geographically today still doesn't have access to the internet - which, if we think about electricity and water, we'd be outraged to think of a fourth of the state not having access to the internet. The same goes when we think about child care, paid family and medical leave, the issues that are truly facing our communities and our families. These aren't issues that relate specifically to Pownal or Swanton or Guilford or Canaan. These are statewide issues. So why not dedicate the lieutenant governor's office as a platform to address these issues and bring the voices of Vermonters into Montpelier?
Mitch Wertlieb: The lieutenant governor manages the Senate floor debates. I'm wondering what your approach would be to doing that and how it would compare to previous lieutenant governors.
I've spent a lot of time in deciding to run for lieutenant governor, meeting with our former lieutenant governors. And very proud to receive that early endorsement from Gov. Madeleine Kunin. Gov. Shumlin endorsed my candidacy as well, in addition to Lieutenant Gov. Doug Racine. I've sat down with our current governor, Phil Scott, and worked with them and discussed with them what makes for effective leadership. Certainly as an assistant attorney general, working statewide around Vermont, I understand what the needs are and the importance of having strong, thoughtful leadership that's really focused on listening and bringing people together in a unified fashion. I would bring that same background and experience to the lieutenant governor's office and to presiding over the Senate. But when I say "over," I think the most important thing is that we work together, that we build strong relationships not only within the Senate, but with the House, with the administration and with our communities statewide. That's what Vermonters expect in this moment as we move forward.
Given what you just said, I'm wondering how effectively you feel you could work with a governor from a different party. Let's say Gov. Phil Scott does win reelection. He's a Republican. Would you be able to work effectively in that way with him, even though you may have some philosophical differences?
I've been working effectively across party lines for my whole career. I graduated from the University of Vermont in 2006 and worked on Congressman Peter Welch's campaign. I moved to Washington to help him run his office. I spent three and a half years working with the International Red Cross, working with congressional committees and staff, advocating for the rights of Guantanamo detainees and running field missions into conflict zones. I worked with the State Department and international community to launch the first international association in the world to hold private contractors accountable for human rights abuses and to oversee them. I've worked and lived across our state in Rutland and Tunbridge, in Bethel and Burlington and now Montpelier. I have no doubt that I can work extremely well with whomever our governor may be and also the Legislature and our communities and statewide leaders as we move forward from this crisis into a stronger, more resilient Vermont for the future.
You just mentioned that you've done a lot of work focused on human rights in your career, and you're currently serving as the state's assistant attorney general. I understand you also have been teaching some night classes at Vermont Law School with a focus on human rights. Given all of that, I'm wondering about your approach to those classes specifically and whether that has changed since the national outcry over the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. And if you did become lieutenant governor, would you push for any specific changes to law enforcement and how it's performed here in Vermont?
I always tell my students who want to work for the United Nations or international organizations that Eleanor Roosevelt said it best. Where does human rights begin? It begins right here in our communities at home. And ultimately, that's why I came home over a decade ago, to serve our state, to serve our communities. So it's such a pleasure to be able to teach at night. And I'll admit I do that partially because I still have student loan debt from law school and I'm used to working two jobs to help pay the bills, but also because I really enjoy teaching and training future leaders and lawyers. And this is a moment where we have to ask ourselves: who's at the table when we discuss policing or criminal justice reform or social justice or inequity that exists in Vermont right here, right now. And if we continue to have the same voices, we will have the same result. So I see this as a moment. And certainly as an assistant attorney general, knowing quite a bit about how our criminal justice system works, but also as someone who's worked in human rights for the majority of my career, I know how we can use the office of lieutenant governor to bring change and to bring new voices and perspective at a time when we we need that. We need that for the future and a more resilient and equitable Vermont.
Well, if it came to specific things about policing, though - things like the use of chokeholds, things like body cameras, defunding the police - what are your positions?
We have a moment now where we can think about where do we invest. And I've always been a strong believer in if we invest in equal access to opportunity, equal access to education, to child care, paid family leave, workforce development, if we invest in sort of those upstream services that make our communities stronger, families stronger, we won't see the consequences of a lack of investment later in our criminal justice system. I was the first candidate to call for bringing those out-of-state inmates home that are held in private prisons in Mississippi, where we pay about $6 million a year, to say, 'Let's bring those inmates home, spend the money instead on the urgent child care needs that we have here in the state.' And that's the kind of lieutenant governor I want to be, where I'm bringing the experience that I have into advocating for policies and reform across the state.
Clarification 9:45 a.m. 7/17/2020: In the audio for this interview, the host refers to Molly Gray as "Vermont's assistant attorney general." There are multiple assistant attorneys general in Vermont.
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Vermont’s primary election is on Aug. 11, so VPR is reaching out to candidates in contested races for governor, lieutenant governor and the U.S. House to find out why they're seeking to serve, and where they stand on the issues of the day. Find our full coverage here.