Politics

Molly Gray says she’ll get it done for Vermonters in DC. What has she done so far?

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray has made her experience a central part of her pitch to voters in this year’s Democratic congressional primary. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger, illustration by Natalie Williams

Not many women (four, to be precise) have served as Vermont’s lieutenant governor. The one currently holding the job, Democrat Molly Gray, has a favorite anecdote about how, upon standing behind the Senate podium for the first time, her heels sank through the metal grate below. 

She told the story again in June during an event of particularly symbolic import. Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin — the first and only woman to have held that post in Vermont — was endorsing Gray’s bid to become the first woman to represent Vermont in Congress. (Two other women are running in the four-way Democratic primary, hoping to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.)

Following Kunin’s brief remarks, the 38-year-old candidate recalled attempting to regain her balance by standing upon the Senate dais “sort of like a ski racer,” and thinking to herself: “How long has it been since a woman's been up here?”

That heating grate may have been ill-suited to her footwear, but it does not appear to have posed much of a stumbling block for Gray, who has deftly used the state’s No. 2 spot — a well-worn stepping-stone to higher office — in much the same manner as generations of men, and Kunin herself, before her.

Every lieutenant governor after Consuelo Bailey, who served from 1955 to 1957, has gone on to run for governor or federal office, and Gray is no exception. The post is an enviable one from which to launch another campaign: It is highly visible, but basically ceremonial, which offers the occupant plenty of time to interact with voters without getting bogged down in the messy and sometimes compromising matters of governance or legislative sausage-making.

Gray’s time as lieutenant governor may ultimately be both a blessing and a curse. It has allowed her to enter the race as the candidate best known to voters, but it has also offered her detractors the opportunity to paint her as a politician who is more interested in rising through the ranks than delivering on policy priorities. Gray, meanwhile, has tried to make her experience prior to holding elected office a central part of her pitch to voters. That experience includes nearly five years in D.C., work regulating private military contractors in Geneva and a stint as a prosecutor in the Vermont Attorney General’s Office. 

Gray burst onto the scene in early 2020 to launch a long-shot campaign for lieutenant governor, her first-ever bid for elected office. She had no name recognition at the time, but she boasted the support of some of the Washington, D.C., Democratic establishment’s most influential players. Gray’s early boosters included Kunin, who also served in the Clinton administration; Jane Stetson, a mega-fundraiser and former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee; and Carolyn Dwyer, a longtime political operative for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Gray’s 2020 campaign focused on the bread-and-butter issues of demographics and affordability that have long plagued Vermont, but the then-36-year-old lawyer promised to bring “fresh energy” and “new perspectives” to bear in dealing with them in Montpelier. 

“I'm running because of your failed record on paid family leave,” she told a Democratic opponent, then-Sen. Tim Ashe, in a particularly barbed back-and-forth during a debate on Vermont Public Radio. “I'm running because Vermonters still don't have child care. I'm running because a fourth of Vermonters still can't get online." 

Ashe, who was serving at the time as president pro tempore of the Senate, asked Gray in response why she had not instead run for the House, the legislative chamber that had failed to override, by one vote, a gubernatorial veto on paid family leave.

Her answer, which suggested that the question was a sexist jab at her qualifications, would go viral and reverberate through the rest of the campaign.

“Throughout this election people have asked, 'Molly, why don't you run for city council, or why don't you run for the Legislature?’ Those are questions that men ask women running for office,” she answered. 

A well-known and politically ambitious legislative leader, Ashe had been the presumed frontrunner in the race, but Gray would ultimately beat him and two other candidates in the Democratic primary. It wasn’t close; she won by more than 10 points and handily beat her Republican opponent, Scott Milne, in the general election. 

Two years later, former Gov. Howard Dean, now an ardent Gray backer, still remembers listening to the exchange with Ashe on the radio. Dean had been one of those men who had asked Gray why she wasn’t interested in starting her political career by running for the Legislature, although her response to him had been, at the time, to smile politely. (According to Dean, Gray now freely ribs him about it.)

Speaking this June at a rally of Gray supporters at Hula, the South Burlington tech hub and co-working space where Gray’s campaign is headquartered, Dean recalled the parallel exchanges and marveled at Gray’s chutzpah — and savviness.

“This woman has a really good political brain, too,” Vermont’s longest-serving governor said, as the room erupted in laughter. “She knows when to say and when not to say.”

Dean brought up the debate exchange again in an interview weeks later, as an example of Gray’s “toughness.”

“It is really hard to be a woman in a position of power with a lot of powerful older men. And she knows how to deal with that without taking any crap,” he said. “And that is probably the reason I like her as much as I do.”

Gray is unfailingly polite, Dean said, but “never backs down.” And, he said, Vermonters need someone in D.C. who won’t take no for an answer. But asked what her steely resolve had been able to achieve so far for Vermonters, the former governor struggled for an answer.

“I mean, I can't tell you because I don't — you know, it would depend on her relationship with Becca, and I don't know what that was at the time,” he said, referring to Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, who leads the Legislature’s upper chamber and is widely considered Gray’s chief rival for the Democratic congressional nomination.

The response was a telling parry from Dean, given the critique often leveled at Gray from Balint and her allies — namely, that while Gray occasionally put out a strategically timed press release from the lieutenant governor’s office, Balint actually negotiated the passage of legislation.

Asked in a recent interview why she decided to run for lieutenant governor, Gray pointed once again to paid leave. She recalled how, even as she struggled to pay off her student loans, she had considered taking unpaid time off from her job in the Attorney General’s Office in 2019 to care for her mother, who has multiple sclerosis and was hospitalized at the time. 

Luckily, Gray said, her mother got better. But the candidate described the event as a galvanizing moment nonetheless.

“I was like, ‘This is it. This is why young people aren't staying here, because there just isn't the infrastructure to make this work,’” she said.

Gray would, ultimately, take months of unpaid leave the following year — to run for lieutenant governor. But pressed on what she did once she ascended to that office to fight for the very policy that had motivated her run, Gray responded that while she had worked to keep the matter in the public eye, a state-level paid family leave plan was actually impossible.

“I know that with our small budget and our small revenue stream as a state, there is no way — I do not believe paid family medical leave is going to be possible at the state level,” she said. “We have to focus on it at the national level.”

And that, Gray said, is why she is now running for Congress.

Yet despite her now-stated belief that Vermont could not possibly enact its own paid leave plan, Gray would nevertheless go after Balint on the subject just a few weeks later. Why, she demanded to know at a VTDigger debate last week, had the Senate not passed a bill on the matter this year?

When Balint replied that Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who has vetoed paid leave in the past, stood in the way, Gray doubled down.

“I’m just curious why the Senate didn’t take up paid leave this year as a stand-alone bill when we knew we had, I believe, the highest number of women leaving the workforce in the nation,” the lieutenant governor said. “We’ve had a very high number of unpaid caregivers, and possibly the votes to override.”

‘In campaign mode’

When he was lieutenant governor, Scott traveled the state on an “Everyday Jobs Tour” during which he worked alongside Vermonters for a day on power line crews, at country clubs, bakeries and ski resorts. David Zuckerman, who is running this cycle to reclaim Vermont’s No. 2 spot, held a traveling “Movie Night” series. And Dean, a former lieutenant governor himself, recalls driving once a week up and down the state to talk to Vermonters.

Gray’s major outreach effort was the “Recover Stronger” tour, during which she traveled across the state to talk to Vermonters about where to invest the state’s windfall of federal pandemic aid. The result was a nine-page report submitted last fall to the state’s legislative leaders, congressional delegation and Scott.

Gray held a press conference about her findings, during which she called for renewed investments in housing, broadband, child care, workforce development and mental health. She also regularly hosted a “Seat at the Table” panel series during the legislative session to talk with Vermonters about various hot-button policy issues, including paid leave, the war in Ukraine and housing.

The lieutenant governor’s report largely reflected existing Democratic priorities, and neither Scott nor the chairs of key legislative committees with jurisdiction over those topics could recall an instance in which Gray’s input had much influence. One openly bristled at the suggestion that she had played any substantive role.

Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, put it this way: “She didn't talk with me about mental health. She did not talk with me about health care reform. She did not talk with me about child care. She did not talk with me about allocation of funding for workforce development.” 

But while Lyons faulted Gray for having “significantly less” engagement with lawmakers than her predecessors, the senator added that, “to be fair,” the first-term lieutenant governor had operated in a mostly remote setting due to Covid-19 and entered the Statehouse with few connections.

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray presides over the Senate at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle, the chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation and the chamber’s longest-serving member, agreed that Gray hadn’t been involved in policy discussions. But then again, he said nonchalantly, most lieutenant governors aren’t. They serve as master of ceremonies in the Senate, and when a parliamentary decision needs to be made, they usually rely on the recommendations of the Senate secretary, a staffer.

“You can comment on issues and, you know, go to the press on them or whatever you’re concerned about. But as far as having any sort of policy changes or bills enacted or any influence on any particular bill — very, very, very seldom have I ever seen it happen,” Mazza said. (Both Mazza and Lyons, alongside half of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, have endorsed Balint.)

Scott, for his part, said that he and Gray regularly meet. Her report demonstrated that the two shared “common ground,” the governor said, and served as “confirmation that we felt the same way and that we were aligned in some of our thinking.” But Scott couldn’t name a time when she had swayed him on an issue, nor could he identify a new idea he’d proposed for the state budget thanks to Gray’s suggestions.

The governor did, however, credit her for being eager to help publicize the state’s Covid-19 vaccination drive. He also noted that the two had co-authored an op-ed calling on legislators to eliminate taxes on military pensions — a subject Gray would later spotlight in a press conference. Gray’s stance put her in opposition to most lawmakers in her party, who have long resisted Scott’s calls to abolish the levy, although a partial exemption did become law this year.

Mitzi Johnson, a former Democratic speaker of the House, joked that Vermont should probably just abolish the lieutenant governor’s office. Better to spend the tax dollars currently earmarked for what amounts to little more than a figurehead, Johnson argued, on hiring another person to work in the Office of the Legislative Counsel, the Legislature’s in-house legal team, which actually drafts bills. 

“‘Lieutenant governor’ sounds like a big title,” she said. “But there's actually very little responsibility, and there are zero deliverables that the lieutenant governor has to produce.”

Like many current and former lawmakers, Johnson is backing Balint. The decision, she said, was easy.

“I was very willing to give Molly an opportunity in the last election. But I haven't seen her get out of campaign mode yet. She's never governed. I have never seen her governing skills. She's been in campaign mode for, you know, for two straight years,” Johnson said.

Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, agrees that lieutenant governors — past and present — play basically no role in the legislative process. But Gray was diligent about constituent correspondence, he said, and scrutinizing her influence in the legislature is unfair given the limits of her role.

“It cracks me up,” Campion said. “A colleague of mine said, ‘Brian, it would be like somebody asking you: What bills are you going to veto this year?’” (Campion has not endorsed in the race.)

At the VTDigger debate last week, Balint said that Gray’s report had been well and good. But after pressing ‘send’ on that email, Balint asked, what had Gray done?

“Leadership is about following through on ideas to bring them to fruition,” Balint said. “So I would like to know what you did in your role as lieutenant governor to help bring these ideas to fruition.”

Gray’s reply? That’s not my job.

“You’re the president of the Senate,” the lieutenant governor said. “So my job is not to undercut your authority or your leadership over your body.”

Standing up on pensions

There was one instance in which Gray undeniably left her mark at the Statehouse: last year’s pension fight. 

Prompted by a package of recommendations from state Treasurer Beth Pearce, House lawmakers in 2021 proposed legislation that would have slashed pension benefits for public-sector employees, hiked their retirement age, and required state employees and teachers to pay more into the system to help plug a growing shortfall. Workers, many of whom were on the frontlines of the pandemic, were predictably livid

Gray was the first Democrat in leadership to publicly break with House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, over the pension proposal. Within days of Gray’s statement blasting the plan, top Democrats — including Krowinski herself — vowed to change course.

“I’ve never seen a lieutenant governor stand up early on that kind of issue and put themselves out there and give people, basically, another option,” Campion said, adding that he felt her move gave some who had wanted to speak out the cover to do so.

The lieutenant governor’s decision to weigh in infuriated many Democratic lawmakers, some of whom still openly fume about it today. Where was Gray, asked Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, when the pension task force White co-chaired last summer got to work trying to find an acceptable compromise?

Gray’s “political” statement was “easy” to make, the senator argued, because she was never on the hook for articulating an actual solution. (A package of recommendations proposed by the task force made it into law this session after the House and the Senate unanimously overrode a veto by Scott.)

“She didn't have to try and come up with something that would be satisfactory to both unions, to the Legislature, to kind of the general population, to the treasurer's office,” said White, who is supporting Balint. 

In an interview with VTDigger, Gray said the solution she’d pitched had simply been “having state employees and the teachers at the table and coming up with a fair proposal.”

The Vermont-National Education Association, which represents teachers and is the state’s largest union, is staying out of the Democratic primary, as it usually does. But the Vermont State Employees’ Association, which represents state workers, has come out swinging for Gray — and explicitly tied its support to pensions.

“Anybody who says that that was a small gesture doesn't understand how intense the fight was on that, at that moment, with Speaker Krowinski,” said Steve Howard, the union’s executive director. “She was trying to shove her plan down our throats in two weeks, and she was going full speed ahead with everything she had.”

Gray’s statement was exactly what unions wanted from her, Howard said, and it had the intended effect: Legislative leaders shelved their plan and gave labor a seat at the table. He even speculated that perhaps Balint’s repudiation of Krowinski’s proposal, which came after Gray’s denouncement, had been motivated by a concern about one day competing with Gray in a Democratic primary for Congress without labor support. 

Asked if Gray, too, could have had cynical motivations, Howard granted that it was possible. But the union, he said, ultimately doesn’t care why Gray did what she did.

“What we care is that she did do it. And that was different — you know, Becca could have had the same determination on day one of the speaker’s plan. She could have said, ‘Dead on arrival. Not crossing the finish line. Not happening.’ But she didn’t,” Howard said.

Molly Gray and Jill Krowinski bump elbows
Molly Gray, then a candidate for lieutenant governor, bumps elbows with House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski at a Rally to Elect Vermont Women on August 24, 2020. Gray broke with Krowinski over state employee pensions in early 2021. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Congressional connections

If Democratic politicos in Montpelier are, by and large, in Balint’s corner, Gray nevertheless has influential friends: Vermont’s powerbrokers in D.C., particularly those allied with Leahy. She continues to have the support and mentorship of Dwyer, Leahy’s longtime campaign manager, as well as two of his former chiefs of staff, both of whom are now working as lobbyists in the nation’s capital. Those connections have proved fruitful, particularly when it comes to fundraising.

And their pitch — as well as Gray’s — is the same. It is that she knows Washington. 

“I have spent nearly a half-decade working in and with Congress. And no other candidate in this race has that experience,” she told supporters during her June rally at Hula. (Another candidate in the Democratic primary, Sianay Chase Clifford, who has been endorsed by the Vermont Progressive Party, worked as a congressional aide for one year.)

Gray first came to the nation’s capital in 2007, when she was just 22. Fresh out of college at the University of Vermont, she had worked on Peter Welch’s winning campaign for Congress, and she joined his staff as a scheduler and executive assistant. She was recommended to the post by none other than Dwyer, recalls Bob Rogan, Welch’s former longtime chief of staff.

Her junior title may have been unglamorous, Rogan said, but the job’s importance should not be underestimated. “The schedule is the heartbeat of any political person's office because it really represents their priorities,” he said. And it required Gray to demonstrate an important quality: diplomacy.

“Her job was to say ‘no’ 99% of the time, but to make people feel like we said ‘yes,’” he said. 

After about a year with Welch, Gray in 2008 went to work for the International Committee of the Red Cross’ office in D.C. She was brought on after a particularly tense moment in the humanitarian organization’s relationship with Washington. Angered by the Switzerland-based group’s criticism of the American government’s treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Senate Republicans at one point pressured the Bush administration to cut the group’s funding. (The U.S., at the time, provided a little over a quarter of the ICRC’s budget.)

Gray’s title was “congressional affairs associate.” Her job was to help the organization navigate Capitol Hill as it tried to explain the group’s function, which is written into the Geneva Conventions, to lawmakers — all the while discreetly reminding them of the country’s obligations to human rights under the international treaty. If that sounds like lobbying — albeit for a laudable cause — Gray insists that it absolutely was not. 

“My job was to help advocate for the organization and to help policymakers understand why compliance with the Geneva Conventions was extremely important, but also regularly engaging with the armed services committees about what was happening at Guantanamo,” she said.

Her days consisted mostly of tracking relevant committee hearings, attending them, writing up reports and briefing congressional staffers about the ICRC’s mission and work. Whenever ICRC staff working in conflict zones would come to Washington to meet with the White House and the Department of Defense, Gray was the point person for setting up meetings with lawmakers or their staff.

But a key part of Gray’s job was also organizing weeklong trips — about two times a year — for congressional staffers to places where the ICRC was doing on-the-ground work, to better help them understand the organization’s role.

These trips feature prominently in her stump speeches and campaign materials; pictures from them appear in basically every video put out by the campaign.

“After college, I poured my focus and energy into helping others, first in Washington and next with the International Red Cross — leading field missions to the Balkans, Haiti and Uganda,” she said in her announcement video.

Sara Schomig, a former public affairs officer for the ICRC who worked alongside Gray at the time, recalls a colleague who was enthusiastic, smart, efficient and fun. 

“She was great to work with. She was terrific at building relationships, maintaining them,” Schomig said. Organizing the site visits abroad was a logistically complicated affair, but Gray handled the task with aplomb.

Tired, as she put it to VTDigger in 2020, of taking “lawyers to meet with lawyers,” Gray left the ICRC after three and a half years, hoping to one day herself become the attorney or policymaker “at the table who is able to effect change.” 

She returned home to Vermont in 2011 to enroll at Vermont Law School and, upon graduating in 2014, secured a prestigious federal clerkship at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. It was a full-circle moment for Gray: Her uncle, Bill Gray, who once worked as Leahy’s campaign manager, had been recommended in 1993 by the senator to serve on that very bench. 

He died with his nomination pending.

Regulation or ‘public relations’?

After the year-long clerkship ended, Gray left in 2015 for Geneva, Switzerland, to pursue a one-year master’s program in international law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. It was there that she was recruited to work for the fledgling International Code of Conduct Association, first as a consultant and later as a full-time staffer. She would be with the association, off and on, for just under three years. (Gray returned to Vermont for some time in 2017 to study for the bar exam.)

The Swiss group, founded just two years prior to Gray’s arrival, had been formed in the wake of the notorious Nisour Square massacre, during which employees of the private military company Blackwater shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians while escorting a U.S. embassy convoy. 

ICoCA had a tiny staff and a monumental task: regulate, for the first time ever, the sprawling and multi-billion dollar private security industry — and hold it accountable to human rights law. 

Gray frequently touts her experience as a “human rights lawyer by training” and argues that her time abroad gives her a broader view on global affairs.

“I led field missions into Baghdad and into the Niger Delta, and into East Africa, tough places doing tough things. And in this moment, we have to remember that Congress has a foreign policy role to play,” she told supporters in a recent stump speech.

Michael Posner, a former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the Obama administration, was on the board of ICoCA when Gray was brought on. He described Gray as an invaluable member of the organization’s leadership team — one who helped craft its very building blocks.

“In a startup or an early phase of an organization, people wind up doing more than one thing, and I would say Molly was, to me, the kind of glue in some ways that held the thing together,” he said.

ICoCA’s board is split between civil society groups, representatives of national governments and private security companies themselves. The parties wanted very different things — contractors sought a rubber stamp, while civil society groups pushed for aggressive and independent oversight. Gray, Posner said, had “a very kind of unusual sense of how to navigate between different interests and how to reach a practical result and move the ball forward.”

ICoCA has more than a few skeptics. Many scholars and civil society groups argue that the industry’s governance role in the group undercuts the project’s credibility. Critics also worry that the regulatory scheme, rather than successfully reigning in abuses, will instead offer governments plausible deniability around them — and legitimize the growing privatization of war.

Sean McFate, a professor at National Defense University, wrote in 2019 that many in the industry viewed ICoCA as little more than “busywork good for public relations and little else.” And, while nevertheless a “noble effort,” he cast doubt on the association’s ability to compel companies to meaningfully change their practices.

“A voluntary code of conduct is not a regulation; it is like being a member of a club,” he said. “The worst that can happen to those caught violating the code is being kicked out of the ICOCA. Such costs are not high enough to bring bad actors to heel.”

Posner argued that Gray was critical in getting companies to move away from a “kind of de minimis thinking that this is really kind of an annoying cost of doing business” and into agreeing to concrete performance benchmarks. She also organized on-the-ground field visits, he said, “to begin to really get a three-dimensional view of what the real issues were, what the challenges were.”

But as to the larger question of whether ICoCA had achieved its aim of holding companies to account, Posner, who no longer serves on the board, said the jury’s still out. 

“I would never say (ICoCA) is something that's already been a great success — because it's too early to say that — but I think the model does make sense,” he said.

Gray disagreed that the association’s work was tantamount to “self-regulation,” but she said in an interview that “time will tell” whether the project will be effective. And, she said, its success would be “largely dictated” by the willingness of the buyers of such services — including the U.S. government — to demand participation in and compliance with the ICoCA’s standards.

“In Congress, I will be a champion for human rights and making sure that anyone the U.S. government is contracting with is compliant,” she said. “It comes back to our values. And so this is not about self-regulation.”

How has Gray’s time abroad informed when she believes the U.S. should engage its military? She frequently talks about the need for the federal government to re-invest in diplomacy, and has blasted the “timeless, costly and expansive ‘global war on terror’” that the country has been embroiled in for 20 years.

But the decision to go to war, she said, must ultimately be made on a “case-by-case basis.”

From prosecutor to politician

After Geneva, Gray returned to Vermont. In October of 2018, she took a job in the criminal division of the Attorney General’s Office, which was led at the time by TJ Donovan. 

Gray spent little time in the courtroom; the bulk of her caseload consisted of prosecution reviews, mostly involving use-of-force incidents with police, and she also handled many public records requests for the office.  

She was assigned to work on a few high-profile cases — although not in a leading role — including the state’s investigation into abuse allegations at the shuttered St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington and the controversial Aita Gurung murder case

Donovan called Gray “a thinker and an innovator” and said her nontraditional background “was a benefit to the office, because, as you know, criminal justice and how we deliver public safety services is changing.” 

She played a key role, for example, in crafting a restorative process for survivors of abuse in the St. Joseph’s case, Donovan said.

He also recalled Gray coming up with the idea for the “Bias Incident Reporting System” his office rolled out in an attempt to come up with new avenues for redress when bias incidents don’t rise to the level of a crime. The initiative, which followed the attorney general’s decision to not press charges around the racist harassment of Kiah Morris during her time as a state representative, was widely panned by the racial justice community, members of which saw it as a way to deflect criticism.

“The perception, at least, is that this is more of a damage-control, knee-jerk response,” Mark Hughes, the executive director of Justice For All VT, told Vermont Public Radio at the time.

In an interview, Gray said she didn’t remember the reporting system being her idea, although she said she was glad to be assigned to the team that worked on it.

“I don't think it's the perfect model,” she said. “I think there's a lot of work to be done, but at the time, I was happy to be part of helping to set it up.”

Her tenure in the AG’s office, ultimately, was brief. She would announce her run for lieutenant governor barely a year after her start date, and go on leave four months into her campaign.

Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor Molly Gray waves to passing traffic in Burlington on Wednesday, October 28, 2020. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Now, just two years later, Gray is back on the campaign trail. She was the first candidate to announce for the U.S. House race, and commentators had been speculating for months that Gray was preparing behind the scenes for the opening that would follow if Leahy were to retire.

Gray had hired a 32-hour-a-week political staffer in her first month in office as lieutenant governor, Seven Days reported in March 2021. At the time, she pushed back on questions about her aims for higher office.

"My sole focus, right now, 60 days into my job as lieutenant governor, is meeting the needs of Vermonters," she told the paper. 

Gray received both praise and criticism for being so bold as to run for Congress just one year after winning her first-ever race. Detractors say she hasn’t proved her mettle; defenders argue it is precisely her audacity that demonstrates she’ll succeed. Supporters (and the candidate herself) often draw parallels to Leahy, who first ran for the U.S. Senate at the age of 34, after serving just under a decade as Chittenden County state’s attorney.

On one thing, both sides can agree. This won’t be her last race.

“You might be asking, ‘Did I see 20 years ago that Molly would run for Congress?’” Anja Jokela, a physician at UVMMC and Gray’s former college ski race teammate, told the crowd at Hula last month. “The answer is yes. And based on what I know of her, what I expect is that in five years, I'll be scrolling through my New York Times app and see Molly featured on the front page as a prominent politician.”

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is a political reporter for VTDigger, covering Vermont state government, the congressional delegation and elections. She previously covered education for Digger, the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: [email protected]

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