In the Democratic primary race for Lt. Governor, the candidate with a firm grasp of the legislative system, a balanced approach to problem solving and an ability to craft legislation that wins the backing of both sides of the political aisle is Rep. Chris Bray of New Haven.
An articulate legislator with a varied background in business, editing and communications, Rep. Bray is well suited to serve as the state’s unofficial economic development liaison in the important areas of high-tech businesses, green energy and the changing era of agriculture and local food production. As important, his willingness to seek compromise (rather than embrace confrontation) is one reason that seven of his eight bills introduced in the past session earned final passage — an enviable record for the most seasoned of legislators — and is the mark of a leader who places actions for the good of the state over personal ego.
Even so, his accomplishments in the House after jsut four years are impressive. In his second term, a few of the bills he ushered into law included:
• Promoting biomass energy to enable Vermont to enhance its in-state production of energy using low-grade forest wood.
• Farm to Plate, a bill that rebuilds the state’s food system to provide more Vermont food to Vermonters. The goal is to produce 13 percent of the food Vermonters eat within the state (today it is 3 percent). If accomplished by 2020, the measure would generate $500 million annually and will have created 2,500 new jobs, plus boosted needed income to Vermont’s family farms.
• Helping Vermont farmers diversify into new crops — especially value-added crops such as grass-fed lamb and beef, cheese and wine — through legislation called the Agriculture Viability Bill. He also led the effort to restore funding for the Farm to School program, which brings fresh, local fruits and vegetables into Vermont’s public schools.
As a legislator, he serves on the Vermont House Agriculture Committee, Vermont Milk Commission, Biomass Energy Development Group, and Rural Economic Development Working Group.
If farm issues seem dominant in his legislative work, they are. But voters would be mistaken to cast Bray as a single-issue candidate. He is far from it.
His emphasis has been on agricultural issues for two reasons: He was placed on the agriculture committee and he worked to the best of his ability on those issues, becoming a leader on the committee in short order; and, secondly, because he believes a strong farm economy is crucial to the state’s economic vitality. But he has a much larger vision of the state’s economy and what needs to be done to goose its engines.
“Vermont is at an economic crossroads; we face a changing world and a new economy,” Bray told the Addison Independent in a recent interview. “The choices we make in the next election will determine if we embrace new ideas for economic development and succeed, or cling to outdated ways of doing business and continue to struggle.”
His campaign focuses on the state’s economic prosperity “through developing our business, energy and agricultural economies” — not just agriculture, but all aspects of the state’s economy.
To that end, Bray is working on specific programs in the following areas:
• In business, he would create Freedom and Unity bonds to support Vermonter-to-Vermonter funding of businesses. The idea is reminiscent of U.S. War Bonds during WWII, of which Vermonters purchased $269 million. In today’s terms, he said, that would be like creating a $4.2 billion fund to provide entrepreneurs needing capital for promising business ideas.
• In energy, Bray would push development of Vermont’s own bio-fuels to provide safe, renewable energy that Vermonters could buy from their neighbors and push for more conservation.
• In government, Bray says the state needs to “manage for fiscal responsibility. We must create a new culture of professional management in state government to get the best possible outcomes for the money we invest as taxpayers.”
GETTING TO KNOW HIM
To accomplish those goals, Rep. Bray, 54, sports an impressive background and a broad range of experiences.
A graduate of the University of Vermont with a BA in zoology in 1977, he got his Master’s Degree in English from UVM from 1981-83, while attending Lincoln College at Oxford University in 1982. He went on to a doctoral program in linguistics at Brown University from 1984-85, and later got his EMT-B at UVM’s College of Medicine in 1999.
Professionally, he has been a senior business analyst and project manager with Vermont’s National Life Insurance Company in the early 1990s, and for the next decade worked as the communications director and managing editor of public relations firms, and founded his own business consulting company in 1990. His company creates “integrated communications for technical clients, with services ranging from analysis and design to writing, editing, production and delivery.” A partial client list includes: Apple Computer, BioTek, IBM, Intel, Macmillan Publishing, Pearson Education, Prentice Hall, Simon & Schuster, Summit Technologies and others.
Of his varied community service work, he has served as the president and board chair of the Middlebury Area Land Trust, served on the Charlotte Volunteer Rescue Service as a member from 1999-2003, was assistant coach of the Middlebury College Equestrian Team from 1999-2004 and has served as a trustee of UVM.
This newspaper has covered and reported on Rep. Bray’s legislative work for the past four years and we have witnessed his bipartisan and pragmatic approach to getting the state’s business done. Also impressive is how he characterizes his work as a legislator and what he hopes to contribute as lieutenant governor.
“I do have new ideas for our new economy, and they all build on Vermonters helping Vermonters,” he said in a recent interview. “By using Vermont’s best resources — our people and our land — we can create more local businesses, especially in technologies and manufacturing, in agriculture and food, and in renewable energy. And we can help ourselves do this through new ways of financing these businesses. If we do this, we will develop the sort of economic prosperity that will help all Vermonters... There is nothing that makes me happier than to see someone with a good job.”
Of his personal philosophy, Bray relates a story in memory of his father.
“He was a physician and had contact with lots and lots of people. Three lessons came back to me, which I always heard growing up... The first thing was, ‘You’re in the world to make it a better place.’ You need to act and get involved. The second thing that my father always said was, ‘Patients heal themselves, not doctors.’ Having a positive attitude and participating is how you really make things happen... No one is going to fix Vermont’s economy for us; we’re the patients, and we need to have a positive attitude, we need to get involved....’ The third thing was, ‘Be kind.’”
In his work around Addison County and in his years in the Legislature, Rep. Bray reflects his father’s sentiments, which is why his statement about his own political bent rings so true: “I am really not attracted to partisanship and rancor,” he said. “It is not a good fit for me as a person.”
That’s another good reason — of many — why Democrats throughout the state should vote for Rep. Chris Bray for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary on Aug. 24. As former governor Phil Hoff says, “He’s the most qualified candidate (in this race) by far.” He is also one of the most sincere.