NEW HAVEN — Rep. Christopher Bray, D-New Haven, confirmed this week that he will run for lieutenant governor this November, entering a field of candidates that already includes another Addison County resident, Republican Mark Snelling of Starksboro.
Bray, 54, said he is running primarily to give farm issues a more prominent forum in Montpelier. Bray, a two-term incumbent legislator representing the Addison-5 district on the House Agriculture Committee, is excited about the new challenge he has decided to take on.
“People had been talking to me about doing something more for a couple of years, actually,” Bray said. “I just chalked it up to over-exuberance on their part. I would have thought it presumptuous for me to run for statewide office, before.”
But Bray said the past four years in the Legislature have taught him a lot about constituent concerns, bipartisanship, state government and how to pass legislation.
This past New Year’s Eve, Bray decided to take the plunge, after consulted with family and close friends.
“I feel like it’s a call to service,” Bray said. “I have felt honored to serve in the House so far, and I have never had work I loved as much as this. I really just want to do more.”
He equated public services to a team of horses pulling together at a sugarworks.
“I really identify with that team of horses,” Bray said. “I want to pull harder.”
The lieutenant governor’s statutory tasks include presiding over the state Senate and succeeding the governor in the event he or she cannot continue in office.
Bray stressed he does not see the lieutenant governor’s job as a springboard to the top executive’s office.
“I wish every gubernatorial candidate a long and happy life,” Bray said. “It is not the governor’s job I am interested in.”
FARM, FOOD & FORESTRY
Bray is more interested in using the post and its greater clout to cast a brighter spotlight on the increasing challenges that Vermont farmers are facing.
“My real reason for running is that I want to work full-time, all year round, on these farm, food and forestry issues and take them to a higher level,” Bray said. “There is no one in the Statehouse that has this as their sole focus.”
Bray does not believe that these issues are getting enough attention during what is a four- to five-month legislative session.
“This, to me, demands a year-round focus,” said Bray, who vowed to work closely with legislators in, and outside of, the Statehouse. “It’s just that crucial to who we are.”
Bray graduated from the University of Vermont (BA, zoology, 1977; MA, English, 1991), where he also taught for four years in the English Department. Bray founded Common Ground Communications, which provides writing, editing, design and production services to a variety of clients and publishing houses. He lives with his family on an 82-acre farm in New Haven.
Bray has a saying hanging on his wall that sums up his feelings about agriculture: “A Vermont without farmers could be a good place. But it could never be Vermont. And while there are a lot of good places, there is only one Vermont.”
He acknowledged that he takes on some personal political risk in embarking on his statewide campaign. He will be leaving the relative security of his House seat for a wider race in which he will need to gain much wider name recognition during the next nine months. Bray has already been told he may have to raise around $250,000 to effectively wage his campaign.
“I could never be luckier than to serve in (the House),” Bray said. “So I would leave that job with some regret, but it feels to me that there is a bigger job that needs to be tackled, and I want to work on it.
“My sense is that we are really in a period of crisis, when it comes to our agricultural and forestry heritage,” Bray added. “I appreciate all the current talk about green jobs; I am all for all forms of green jobs, but the original form of green jobs is agriculture and forestry, and they have been a critical part of Vermont for hundreds of years. And I am not content to watch them fade away.”
Bray believes that bolstering the farm and forest industries would go a long way toward solving many of the state’s other pressing problems.
He cited as an example the “Farm to Plate” initiative, which was created by a bill he co-sponsored. The purpose of the program is to foster economic development and job growth in the farm and food sector. The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund has been tasked with creating the strategic plan for Farm to Plate, in consultation with the Sustainable Agriculture Council and other stakeholders, by June 30 of this year.
“If you talk to some people about farming, they think you are being fuzzy-headed or sentimental, that you just want to keep this going because it’s a tradition,” Bray said. “But the Farm to Plate bill said ‘Let’s look at the economics of what’s going on with food in the state.’”
That inspection has thus far revealed that only 3 percent of the food Vermonters consume is actually grown and processed in the Green Mountain State, according to Bray.
It costs the state around $2.5 billion to import the 97 percent of food Vermonters consume, Bray said.
“The goal of Farm to Plate is to rebuild our food system in such a way that we can provide for ourselves 10 percent more of the food we eat,” Bray said. “The economic value of a 10-percent increase in food grown and processed locally is roughly $500 million, and that might be conservative.”
He noted $500 million is more than gross milk receipts in Vermont in “a good milk year. So we are definitely not talking about something cute and small, like just more farm stands and more farmers’ markets.”
Bray envisions a revitalized food delivery system in Vermont through which farm and forestry operations could effectively deliver local food and energy products — like wood and other biomass — to colleges, universities, schools, stores and businesses throughout the state.
“The reason they can’t use more local food now is because we don’t have the capacity to deliver it, in terms of volume and steadiness,” Bray said. The Farm to Plate initiative, Bray said, could provide for new infrastructure allowing Vermont to gather and process food.
“There are 55,000 people in the state of Vermont involved in the food system, and there are roughly 300,000 worker in the state,” Bray said. “It is really a significant part of our economy and we have an opportunity.”
Foods and farms can also play an important role in the health care debate, according to Bray. He pointed to statistics indicating that one out of three children born today will become diabetic, in part due to diet and obesity.
“If we can improve nutrition, we can help reduce the national obesity epidemic by moving back to more whole foods, and ideally more local whole foods,” Bray said. “We stand to save more money in avoided health care costs through eating better than we might even make by producing the food and selling it.”
Bray realizes that, if elected, he will be even closer to the front lines of a challenging state budget, one that faces $150 million shortfall in 2011. He said he favors a “balanced approach” in dealing with the state’s budget dilemma.
“I’ll be looking at all the tools that we have, and there are four things we can do,” Bray said, citing cuts, new revenues, federal stimulus money and the state’s rainy day funds as possible budget balancing options.
“The challenge is not to get too attached to any one of those things that you either say ‘you must do it all this way’ or ‘you cannot use that tool,’” Bray said. “That, to me, is being ideological and not open-minded about a solution that involves compromise.”
Bray knows he has his work cut out for him in the months ahead. Bray, in his two house campaigns, burned a lot of shoe leather. He won’t be able to knock on every door in the state, so he will have to use a larger megaphone to get his message across.
“I will be more organized than ever and will have to work harder than ever, and do that from now until Nov. 2,” Bray said.