Story-Video-Podcast: Ram: Unique insight into Vermonters’ struggles

Listen to Kesha Ram discuss the issues:

MONTPELIER — Kesha Ram launched her political career at the urging of someone who went on to become most powerful man on Earth.

In 2006, while a sophomore at the University of Vermont, Ram introduced then-U.S Sen. Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders at a rally in the Ira Allen Chapel on the college’s campus.

“In the middle of his speech — and he has a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas and I have a father from India and a mother from Illinois — Barack turned to Bernie and said, ‘Bernie, if you don’t behave yourself, we’re going to run Kesha for the Senate instead of you,’” Ram recalled. “It was the first time anyone encouraged me to run for office, and I thought, ‘If there a place for a person like him in politics, maybe there’s a place for someone like me.’”

Kesha Ram

Kesha Ram

The now-29-year old — she will turn 30 one week before the Aug. 9 primary — is engaged in a three-way race for the Democratic Party nomination for lieutenant governor, facing off against former House Speaker Shap Smith and Sen. David Zuckerman.

While younger than her fellow candidates — Smith is 50, while Zuckerman is 44 — Ram says she has the background and the perspective needed to make the most of the second-highest office in the state.

“I think it’s about the experience I’ve had not only inside the Legislature but outside of the Legislature,” Ram said. “When people hear that there is someone running for statewide office who has been a preschool teacher and a social worker and really understands what our communities are facing when it comes to the opiate addiction crisis and families struggling to gain access to the middle class, I’m somebody who’s experienced first hand what that looks like and what solutions make the most sense.”

Ram grew up, as she puts it, “in my Indian immigrant father and Jewish-American mother’s Irish pub in Los Angeles,” before a split between the two showed her the challenges faced by many Americans just to make ends meet.

“Once my mother didn’t feel like an equal partner in the business and left my father, she raised her three kids as a single mom,” Ram said. “I experienced a lot of family instability, home foreclosure and struggles accessing the middle class, and I think that gives me real insight into what a lot of Vermonters are experiencing.”

Ram graduated from the University of Vermont in 2008 with degrees in political science and natural resource planning, but before she even graduated, she had launched her campaign to represent Burlington in the Legislature.

“It really felt as though, with the start of the Great Recession, our generation desperately needed a voice in Montpelier,’ Ram said.

All told, Ram served four terms — eight years — in the House, with her first three years on the Housing, General and Military Affairs Committee. While there, she addressed issues related to labor and advocated for state recognition for Vermont’s indigenous Abenaki Tribe.

Ram also served on the Ways and Means Committee, and this past year, was the vice-chairwoman of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, where she co-authored the state’s new renewable energy siting law.

Outside of the State House, Ram has taken on jobs that benefit some of the state’s most vulnerable populations, including an early stint as a Head Start advocate for a preschool.

“That gave me a a real window into the lives of struggling families in Vermont, whose kids I was trying to keep stable while they were experiencing the stress of addiction and hunger, and my job was really to make sure they had the same opportunities as every other kid and were ready for kindergarten,” Ram said. “I really cherish that work because the best economic development tool and tool for growing the supportive society we have is educating our children.”

Later, Ram was the legal director at Women Helping Battered Women, a domestic violence shelter in Burlington.

“I was seeing a wide range of Vermonters experiencing abuse and resulting homelessness and instability and trying to help them navigate our law enforcement and judicial system as well as our social services and really seeing what that looked like for folks, and that informed my work in the Legislature to protect victims of sexual and domestic violence,” Ram said.

Most recently, Ram was worked as a community advocate for Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, an experience that helped her understand the the importance of the intersection of local and state government.

“That helped me see the nobility and thanklessness of local government and how important it is to make those local executive decisions to ensure the roads are paved and plowed, that the city is moving forward and growing its base and that people feel heard and engaged in the process of local government.”

Ram says that, rather than being a liability, her age would be an asset to the office of lieutenant governor.

“I think what Montpelier is lacking right now is long-term vision and somebody who has that longer-life horizon, who has learned a lot from those generations who have come before me and is particularly well suited to bring that long-term vision,” she said.

The Vermont Press Bureau also asked Ram to address a number of issues important to Vermonters: taxes, gun control, drug and mental health treatment, school district mergers, renewable energy siting and health care.

To watch a video or listen to a podcast of the interview, visit www.vermontpressbureau.com.

For more information about Ram’s campaign, visit www.kesharam.com.

josh.ogorman @timesargus.com

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