Former Lt. Gov. Gray: An unprecedented two years

On the morning of Jan. 5, I gaveled-in the Vermont Senate one last time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have served the people of Vermont; what an extraordinary and unprecedented two years it has been.

I was sworn-in as Vermont’s 82nd lieutenant governor on Jan. 7, 2021, a day after the January 6th insurrection with the State House surrounded by security. I assumed my new role as Senate president in a largely empty State House at the height of the pandemic. I gaveled-in the Senate each day to senators joining via Zoom from makeshift home offices. It was not until March of the following year, that I presided over an in-person Senate. From the distribution of COVID relief funds, to investments in transportation and workforce development to the passage of the reproductive liberty amendment, the Senate persisted amidst an unprecedented global pandemic.

When I took office, I didn’t anticipate how much our pandemic response would be front and center. For the first year, I joined Gov. Scott every Wednesday for pandemic updates, used shared information about vaccine deployment and volunteered at clinics across Vermont. It was all-hands-on-deck addressing the pandemic and putting the needs of Vermonters first. There are few places nationally where Republicans and Democrats meet regularly, let alone talk. I am proud that we were able to show up united for Vermont and in a shared belief in good government.

I found ways to keep my office open and bring the voices of Vermonters to the State House utilizing technology. I hosted a virtual “Seat at the Table” series on topical issues facing Vermont communities from climate change and food insecurity to refugee resettlement. We followed these public conversations with letters to legislative leaders, drawing attention to policymaking opportunities.

In 2021, when we learned that Vermont would receive $2.7 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds, in large part due to Sen. Leahy, I spent six months traveling the state completing a needs assessment and giving Vermonters a voice in how funds should be invested. We brought together Vermonters from all 14 counties for community conversation, meeting with 60 different organizations and businesses. In advance of the 2022 legislative session, I drafted a public report for Gov. Scott and legislative leaders with recommendations.

We also welcomed hundreds of students and teachers to the State House virtually as part of a “lieutenant governor for a day” program. Students from every corner of Vermont gaveled-in the Senate and learned about the inner workings of the office and legislature. It felt important to me that young people, especially kids from rural communities and girls, knew that my office was their office and they too could be lieutenant governor.

Over the last two years, there were other moments that give me great pride. As the daughter and sister of service members, I enjoyed working with our Vermont National Guard. It was an honor to represent Vermont in North Macedonia as part of a long-standing state partnership program and to welcome North Macedonia’s minister of defense to Vermont. I also advocated for ending the tax on military retirement pay — an opportunity I hope the legislature will prioritize in 2023.

Finally, this December I co-hosted a legislative summit on child care and paid leave. I ran for lieutenant governor, in part, because of my own personal struggles balancing care for a loved one with holding-down two jobs, paying student loans and making ends meet. My story isn’t unique and I believe Vermont has the responsibility to make paid family and medical leave a reality for every Vermont worker in 2023.

I have learned so much running for office and serving in elected office. First, you have reinforced my belief that Vermonters care deeply about their communities and want them to be thriving, welcoming places. Second, you have shown that Vermonters care deeply about their democracy and show up for elections — even those during a pandemic. I hope young Vermonters, especially women, see there is a place for them in our government and in holding elected office.

Finally, and, most meaningful to me on a personal level, you have shown that a woman can come from “nowhere” (or a little town called Newbury) and serve as lieutenant governor.

I want to thank my fellow Vermonters for your faith in me. Thank you for welcoming me into your homes and businesses. Thank you for sharing your concerns and ideas for Vermont’s future. Thank you for your calls, letters and emails. Thank you for your feedback and for holding me, and the State, accountable. Thank you for making our democracy stronger, more inclusive and resilient. Serving you and our State remains the greatest honor of my life.

I look forward to seeing you in your community, continuing to learn from you, and the good work we will continue to do together.

(Molly Gray served as the 82nd lieutenant governor of Vermont. She was elected in 2020 and her term ended earlier this month. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2022.)