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Sen. Bray outlines his path to leadership of the Vt. Senate

NEW HAVEN — Campaigning has become second nature to Sen. Christopher Bray, D-New Haven, a veteran of two successful runs for both the House and Senate. He also broadened his political horizons in 2010 during an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor.
Bray is now preparing to go into what for him is uncharted waters. Should he be re-elected this November to his seat representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore, Bray plans to run for the top leadership post in the Senate: president pro tem. And he would do so in a field that would include his own district-mate, Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, whose pro tem aspirations were chronicled in the May 19 edition of the Addison Independent.
“I am interested in seeing the Senate do its best possible work — and to do so it needs to be well organized and well managed,” Bray said of his interest in serving as pro tem. “I believe I would bring such skills to the position.”
Interest in the post has been heightened by the impending retirement of current Senate president pro tem, John Campbell, a Quechee Democrat. Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden County, is also interested in the position.
The president pro tem presides over the state Senate in the absence of the lieutenant governor, and serves as a member of the Committee on Committees. That panel — made up of the lieutenant governor, president of the Senate and a state senator chosen by his or her peers — is responsible for making committee assignments and choosing leadership for the chamber’s various committees.
Bray and Ayer already enjoy high profiles in the Senate. Ayer is the House majority whip and chairwoman of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. Bray is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, a panel that has been in the headlines during the past two years for its work on S.230, a bill designed to improve the siting of renewable energy projects.
Serving as Senate president is something that Bray has thought about for the past two years.
“A number of other senators came to me and asked me if I might be interested (in running), after seeing the floor work and committee work I was doing,” Bray said.
He said he looks upon president pro tem as a “service position,” as opposed to a position of power.
“The most rewarding experiences I’ve had have been in working with a group of people,” he said, citing past affiliations with school/college sports teams, a theater group, a fire and rescue squad, and, of course, the Vermont House and Senate. “The things I’m most proud of having accomplished were not things I have done myself. It was always working with a group of other people.”
Bray said he enjoys reaching goals through the collective talents of a group or committee.
“As a chair, I have learned that getting good work done means bringing out the best in others, rather than simply pursuing one’s own agenda,” Bray said. “A strong committee is a strong team, and the same is true for the Senate as a body. I think the very same approach is essential in a pro tem. It is a service position. Further, I want to promote an atmosphere of fair-minded balance in which all senators, and all committees, are treated equally.”
Bray credited his leadership style with helping Senate Natural Resources and Energy deal with some challenging bills during the past biennium. Along with S.230, these bills included the Clean Water Act, the Renewable Energy Standard, Farm to Plate, numerous forestry bills, and initiatives addressing toxic substances and water quality.
“Passing laws involves working productively with both the House and the Senate, and at this time, I am the only pro tem candidate who has served in both chambers — four sessions in each body,” Bray said. “This experience, and the connections I have maintained over the years, have enabled me to work well with the House and successfully advance the Senate’s work.”
Bray served two terms representing the Addison-5 House district (New Haven, Weybridge and Bridport) prior to running for lieutenant governor in 2010. He was elected to the state Senate in 2012. Bray also currently serves on the Senate Committee on Government Operations.
He founded and still operates Common Ground Communications, which provides writing, editing and production services to technical clients and the book publishing industry. He and his family operate The Equestry, an 82-acre farm in New Haven offering horse riding, full-service boarding and training in dressage and jumping.
Research into pro tem positions, according to Bray, indicates that several senators have held that position with, like himself, four years in the state’s highest chamber.
“From my point of view, seniority certainly counts for something,” Bray said, “but it’s about how you work with your colleagues. Never having lost a bill makes me a dependable colleague to work with. I have had many bills that have been complicated and technical, and I think people have trusted me to do my homework and bring forward — with the help of others — a reliable and solid bill.”
Bray said he respects all of senators in the running for pro tem. He stressed he is running for the position rather than against anyone else. Senate Democrats will convene next December in caucus to decide on their nominee for pro tem. The full Senate will vote on its leader. Democrats currently hold a 21-9 numerical advantage over Republicans in the Senate.
Running against Ayer is “awkward,” Bray conceded. He raised the possibility that all of the candidates could meet before a final vote to “try to come to a conclusion amongst ourselves” on a consensus pick for pro tem.
Asked to comment on Bray’s bid for pro tem, Ayer replied, “I was a little surprised.”
“Sen. Ayer and I have thus far only had a brief conversation about our mutual interest in the pro tem position,” Bray said. “I look forward to sitting down with her soon and learning more about her interest in the position. I think we both want to see a well-run Senate.”
Bray pledged to happily work with whomever is picked to lead the Senate.
Of course running for Senate president pro tem will be a moot point for Ayer and Bray if they are not re-elected. As the Addison Independent went to press, the two Democrats faced opposition from Republicans Peter Briggs of Addison and Lynn Dike of Bristol. Both GOP hopefuls were slated to submit their nomination papers on May 26, the filing deadline.
“I feel honored to have represented Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore in the Senate for the past four years, and I am currently focused on running for re-election,” Bray said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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