Former Governor Madeleine Kunin backs Molly Gray in U.S. House race
SHELBURNE — Former Governor Madeleine Kunin has backed Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray in the closely watched race for Vermont’s only seat in the U.S. House.
“It was a very close and personal decision, and the bottom line is that I think she’s highly qualified,” Kunin said at a Gray campaign event on Friday morning.
Kunin, a Democrat, was Vermont’s first female governor and served three terms. She then served in the Clinton administration, first as Assistant Secretary of the US Department of Education and then as US Ambassador to Switzerland.
Kunin endorsed Gray in part because of her resume, the former governor said, and because of their shared focus on maternal health care, affordable child care, and paid family and medical leave.
Kunin has also known Gray for years, since the latter was a senior at the University of Vermont. Gray took Kunin’s “women in politics” course in the fall of 2005. After graduating, the two kept in touch, Kunin said, when Gray went to work in Washington, D.C., and then Geneva.
The former governor had delayed approving a candidate in the US House race, she said, because she was also “very close” to Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, who dropped out of the race last week.
“I knew Kesha as a student at UVM,” Kunin said. “And you know, it’s like in the Bible — which child are you going to sacrifice? I just couldn’t do it.
Ram Hinsdale announced last Friday that she would seek re-election to the Vermont Senate instead. She then endorsed Pro Tempore Senate Speaker Becca Balint, D-Windham, who many saw as vying with Ram Hinsdale for support from the left of the party.
Both Gray and Balint are alumni of Emerge Vermont, a program that trains Democratic women to run for office. Kunin helped found the local branch of Emerge America, as did Ram Hinsdale.
Kunin, a columnist for VTDigger, was one of the most prominent voices advocating for Vermont to send a woman to Washington. Vermont is the last state in the country that has yet to elect a woman to its congressional delegation.
Gray jokingly called Kunin the “matriarch” of Vermont politics on Friday and cried as she took to the podium.
“For the women here today, my God, and for countless women across Vermont, Governor Kunin has paved the way and served as a guide,” Gray said. “She was and continues to be an unwavering example of what is possible.”
The Gray campaign emphasized the theme of women’s representation at Friday’s event. Male staff members, dressed in teal “Molly Gray for Vermont” t-shirts, hung in the back of the room for Gray and Kunin to appear on the podium in front of a wall of women.
Gray spoke of moments at the Vermont Statehouse where gender felt particularly salient, such as when she first stood on the podium in the Senate chamber after being sworn in. The floor behind the dais was a heating grate, she said, and her little heels stuck through the slats. Gray said she finally put down a piece of plywood to have a stable place to stand.
“It made me wonder, ‘How long has it been since a woman came here? “, said Gray.
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