Eric Davis: Young Vermont candidates get in line

With Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman running for governor, and several members of the Vermont Senate running to replace Zuckerman, there will be multiple open seats available this year for a new generation of Vermonters who want to serve the public in elected office. 

Three candidates, all under the age of 40, are particularly worth a look in this year’s contested Democratic primaries, which will be held on Aug. 11.

Molly Gray is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. She grew up in Newbury, Vt., and attended the University of Vermont, where she was also a cross-country skier. After graduation, she worked on the campaign and congressional staffs of Rep. Peter Welch. She then worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and led field missions to locations in the Caribbean, Africa and Southeastern Europe.

Gray returned to Vermont to pursue a law degree at Vermont Law School. After receiving her J.D., she clerked for Judge Peter Hall on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. She helped to launch the International Code of Conduct Organization, a multinational effort to assure compliance with human rights standards by private security contractors. Until recently, Gray was a Vermont assistant attorney general, working in the criminal division. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Vermont Law School. 

Dylan Giambatista is running for one of the two open seats in the Vermont Senate from the Chittenden District. He grew up in Rutland County, attended the Community College of Vermont, and graduated from Johnson State College in 2013, where he was one of many students inspired to seek a political career by former Sen. Bill Doyle, a JSC faculty member. 

Giambatista served as chief of staff to former House Speaker Shap Smith. He was elected to the Legislature in his own right in 2016, from a district in Essex Junction. He is particularly interested in education issues, and sits on both the House Education Committee and the Board of Trustees of the Vermont State College System. Giambatista also works in the State Treasurer’s office as the Director of Outreach and Financial Literacy, focusing particularly on financial education programs for children and youth.

Kesha Ram is also seeking one of the two open Senate seats in the Chittenden district. She came to Vermont from California in order to attend the University of Vermont. During her senior year, she was student body president at UVM. A few months after graduating, she ran for the Vermont House from a Burlington district, and was elected. During her first term, she was the youngest state legislator in the nation.

Ram served in the Legislature for four terms, and was recognized by leadership as a legislator with considerable potential for advancement, being one of the youngest members to serve on the Ways and Means Committee and as vice chair of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. While serving in the Legislature, she also taught preschool at the Burlington Children’s Space, and was the legal director for a group assisting victims of domestic violence.

Ram also served in municipal government in Burlington, working as the Civic Engagement Specialist for the city of Burlington, empowering citizens to become involved with and participate in their city’s government. Ram unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 2016, and since then has served on a number of boards, including Planned Parenthood and the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

At the top levels, Vermont is represented by very senior people: Peter Welch, at 73, is the youngest member of the state’s congressional delegation. Within a few years, the congressional positions are likely to open up, producing a cascade of open seats as elected officials try to move up the political ladder. This year presents a good opportunity for younger candidates such as Molly Gray, Dylan Giambatista and Kesha Ram to claim their place on that ladder of advancement. 

Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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Addison County Independent