NEW HAVEN — Former Democratic Rep. Christopher Bray of New Haven confirmed he will seek one of Addison County’s two state Senate seats this fall, a move that sets the stage for an Aug. 28 primary showdown with incumbent Democratic Sens. Claire Ayer of Addison and Harold Giard of Bridport.
Bray, 56, represented the Addison-5 House district (New Haven, Bridport and Weybridge) for four years, from 2006 to 2010. He took a pass on re-election in 2010 in order to run for lieutenant governor, but was defeated by Rutland City’s Steve Howard in the Democratic primary.
He took a temporary administrative job at Middlebury-based Vermont Coffee Co. following the November elections, and then returned to his business, Common Ground Communications, which provides writing, editing and production services to technical clients and the publishing industry.
But Bray soon felt the tug to return to public service. He found himself calling legislative leaders and Statehouse staff this past session to get details on various bills. His family, including wife Kate Selby, took note.
“Finally, Kate said, ‘You love that work and you are good at it and if you want to serve again, I would support that,’” Bray said during an interview with the Addison Independent on Tuesday.
He acknowledged deciding many months ago that the state Senate would be the office he would seek in 2012.
“The Senate, I felt, was where I could be most effective and work for all of Addison County,” Bray said.
Realizing the county’s two seats are already held by two incumbent Democrats, Bray did some soul searching and consultation with members of his party. He also informed Ayer and Giard as he sized up a potential run.
Ultimately, Bray said he was encouraged to enter the race.
“Privately, I have gotten a lot of encouragement from inside and outside of the Democratic Party and from inside and outside of Addison County,” Bray said.
“People have said, ‘You’ve had some rest, now it’s time to get back to work.’”
He stressed his candidacy should not be construed as criticism of either Ayer’s or Giard’s performance or voting record. Rather, he said he is running for the job.
As with his past electoral runs, Bray is promoting the production of local foods, goods, renewable energy and services as a means of jumpstarting the Vermont economy, ensuring a safe food supply and allowing Vermonters to better weather anticipated reductions in federal aid.
Bray, who served two terms on the House Agriculture Committee, spearheaded the successful “Farm to Plate” law that provides funding and strategies for increasing local food production in Vermont. Since its passage last year, Farm to Plate has helped create 500 jobs in the state’s food system, according to Bray. Vermont, he noted, is 88 percent farmland and forestland.
“The 10-year goal was to add $400 million to the state’s economy each year and roughly 3,000 jobs,” Bray said. “It’s really taking off and contributing to local, sustainable, long-term economic development.”
With those principles in mind, Bray wants to see Middlebury evolve into a “food hub” for Addison County. And it is already off to a good start, Bray said, noting a major cheese manufacturer, a proposed meat processing facility, a cider company, coffee firm and beer manufacturer among powerhouses in the town’s industrial park.
“There is tremendous interest in the state and in Addison County in doing more,” he said.
And it will be essential for counties to do more for themselves in light of ongoing federal cutbacks, Bray said.
“It puts us in a very vulnerable position,” Bray said. “We are coming out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Although recent Vermont job numbers are encouraging, we still have a long way to go.”
With proper planning and resourcefulness, Vermont has the power to “build its own sustainable, long-term economic health, by developing more of our local businesses, local renewable energy and more local food,” Bray said. “And we can fund these enterprises with local money.”
He has touted the creation and sale of “freedom and unity” bonds as a way for Vermonters to invest in local initiatives.
At the same time, he said the state should continue to recruit clean industries offering high-paying jobs, such as Dealer.com, which has its headquarters in Burlington.
During a campaign that he said will involve a lot of door-to-door stumping, Bray said he will listen to people’s concerns and offer his views on other issues, including:
• Health care. “Our end goal must be to make sure every Vermonter has access to affordable health care, whether that is through a single-payer system or a health care exchange,” Bray said.
At the same time, Bray said society and schools must do more to teach citizens about the long-term benefits of good nutrition in an effort to prevent new cases of diabetes and other debilitating and costly diseases.
• Natural gas. Bray supports the proposed extension of the Vermont Gas pipeline south into Addison County.
“From everything I have heard, natural gas is abundant,” Bray said. “If we continue to use fossil fuels, let’s at least use the cleanest and most efficient ones we can.”
Ayer welcomed Bray’s entry into the race.
“That’s the Democratic process,” Ayer said. “It’s nice to have Democrats who are very strong.”
Giard could not be reached for comment as the Addison Independent went to press. But he said last week he planned to run for re-election.
The Senate candidates will have some new turf on which to campaign this year. A new reapportionment plan approved by the Legislature this past session features a major change in the Addison County senatorial district — namely, the swapping of Brandon for Huntington and Buel’s Gore. It is a change likely to benefit Democratic candidates in the general election, as Brandon featured a substantial GOP majority voting block, while Huntington has tended to lean to the left in recent elections.
Bray plans to make a positive impression on the voters during the coming months.
“I want people to feel and see the type of services I’m going to deliver in Montpelier,” Bray said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]