Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin Endorses Molly Gray for Congress | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin Endorses Molly Gray for Congress


Published June 3, 2022 at 1:09 p.m.
Updated July 12, 2022 at 7:55 p.m.

Former governor Madeleine Kunin speaking as Lt. Gov. Molly Gray looks on - SASHA GOLDSTEIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
  • Former governor Madeleine Kunin speaking as Lt. Gov. Molly Gray looks on
Madeleine Kunin, the first — and only — woman ever elected Vermont governor, has endorsed Lt. Gov. Molly Gray in her primary race for the state's sole seat in the U.S. House.

"She has a commitment to public service," Kunin said of Gray on Friday during an event at the Pierson Library in Shelburne. "As you look at the different chapters of her life, she has made every effort to be engaged in positions that help people, that make people's lives better."

The endorsement from the barrier-breaking Kunin, 88, carries special significance in this Congressional race. Vermont has never elected a woman to serve in Washington, D.C., a drought that would end this year should Gray or one of two Democratic rivals, including state Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham), win in November.

About a dozen women, including former and current state lawmakers and some candidates, stood behind Kunin and Gray during the event.

"I just can't thank you [enough] for paving the way," Gray said to Kunin during her remarks on Friday. "You're the first, we know you won't be the last. I certainly hope to be the first and certainly not the last. And together, we will send our first woman to Congress for the state of Vermont."

Gray, who held back tears as she thanked Kunin for her backing, noted that Kunin visited her family's Newbury farm in 1984. At the time, Kunin, a former lieutenant governor, was running for her first term as governor; Gray was a baby. 

The two women connected in 2005, when Gray took Kunin's class on women in government and politics at the University of Vermont. Gray said that semester made a deep an impression on her as a senior student undecided about what to do with her life.

"If not for governor Kunin's mentorship and helping me see what could happen and what would come next, I know I wouldn't be where I'm at today," Gray said.

At the end of the semester, Kunin said that she'd asked the class if anyone was thinking of running for office, and "she raised her hand."
Gray went on to work for Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), whose seat she now seeks. She later spent time working for the International Committee of the Red Cross, earned her degree from Vermont Law School and worked as an assistant attorney general for the State of Vermont.

Kunin won three terms as governor and later served as ambassador to Switzerland under president Bill Clinton. More recently, the Shelburne resident cofounded Emerge Vermont, an organization that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office. Gray — and Balint — are among the many graduates of the program in the decade or so since its founding.
  • Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
Kunin supported Gray in her 2020 run for lieutenant governor and even gave a speech at her campaign kickoff that February. Gray went on to win her first-ever race against a crowded field of candidates with more political experience.

But Kunin didn't weigh in on the House race until Friday, just weeks before before early voting begins. The primary is August 9.

Asked about the decision, Kunin acknowledged that she didn't plan to endorse a candidate while state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden) was in the race. Ram Hinsdale also studied under Kunin at UVM, and the two worked together on founding Emerge.

"It was like in the Bible: Which child do you sacrifice?" Kunin said. "I just couldn't do it. And I thought the most fair way was to be on the sidelines."

But Ram Hinsdale dropped out of the race last week and endorsed Balint, a major development in the tight contest. Ram Hinsdale's departure made it an easier decision, Kunin said.
"I've always admired Molly," Kunin said. "She was a good student in my class. You don't always remember many students necessarily when you're teaching,  but I always remembered Molly, and we stayed in touch through the years."

"So it wasn't an abstract decision," Kunin added. "It was a very close and personal decision. And the bottom line is, I think she's highly qualified. I think she will be an excellent congresswoman."

Gray cited her interest in international affairs and diplomacy, her desire to pass legislation granting paid medical and family leave, and her focus on maternal health and the high cost of childcare as issues that Kunin inspired her to champion.

"Governor Kunin also knows how deeply important representation is, and that when we have women and marginalized groups at the table, our priorities shift, our policies shift, and our government works more for the people and serves more," Gray said. "She understands that the voices at the table matter when decisions are being made."