Jim Gray likes to say that working with his relatives in their family-owned construction company has been a good training ground for being in politics.
“Because you learn that you may have disagreements in a family, but the next day you’ve got to get up and go to work back together again,” Gray says.
The Democrat says that ethic of collaboration has made him successful in business and as a city council member and now mayor of Lexington. Gray appeared on KET’s One to One to discuss his policy views and his candidacy for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Rand Paul.
Gray was 19 years old when his father died, leaving his mother to figure out what to do with the family’s construction business in Glasgow. Against the advice of friends, she decided to keep the company and let Gray and his five siblings help operate it. Since then Gray Construction has grown into a leading builder of advanced manufacturing facilities with more than 800 completed projects in 37 states. Gray served as president and CEO of the company and is now its board chairman.
Gray made successful bids for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council in 2006 and Mayor of Lexington in 2010 and 2014. As mayor, Gray says he turned a $30 million budget deficit into five years’ worth of fiscal surpluses. He also touts the creation of 15,000 new jobs as well as reforms to the city’s underfunded pension plan and a turnaround of its employee health insurance plan.
Jobs and the Economy
If elected, Gray says he will put his public and private sector experience to work to rebuild the state’s economy. He advocates for more technical and community college training to help match Kentucky workers with the 100,000 advanced manufacturing jobs that he says are available in the commonwealth. He also wants more federal investments in infrastructure – both traditional roads and bridges as well as high-tech projects – and wider usage of public-private partnerships to undertake those ventures. Gray adds that he believes federal resources can build a new northern Kentucky bridge without the need for tolls.
On international agreements, Gray says he supports “fair trade but not bad trade.”
“As a businessman I’ve seen the benefits of good trade,” Gray says, “but on balance, NAFTA has been destructive for workers.”
The North American Free Trade Agreement failed to produce the jobs its promoters promised, according to Gray, and he says the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership doesn’t do enough for workers either. He says the American economy simply isn’t growing fast enough to generate the revenues the nation needs or to help middle-class families thrive. Gray says he’s also concerned about dislocated workers in Kentucky’s coal industry.
“Our manufacturing might has been built on the backs of coal miners,” Gray says. “It’s not right for us to turn our backs on them today. This is why I’ve said that we must encourage a diversified economy, we must make investments in infrastructure in coal regions.”
Despite challenges to the industry, Gray says coal remains a bridge to the nation’s future energy needs. He proposes more funding for research into so-called clean coal and carbon capture research. He says those innovations are so expensive today because the technology is still at the beginning stages of development.
Terrorism and Foreign Policy
Pointing to the rise of Islamic State terror groups, Gray criticizes politicians who want to decrease national security spending or retreat from America’s responsibilities in world affairs.
“At a time when we are threatened more than we have been in generations, being vigorous and having a robust defense and military system and intelligence system is mission critical today,” says Gray. “This is not the time for us to be a small America.”
In Syria, Gray favors no-fly and safe zones in the northern part of that country, but he opposes deploying soldiers to fight there. He also says the U.S. should continue to negotiate with Russia to try to bring peace and security to the region.
“It’s essential that we continue to work with allies even when they may not always be our friends,” Gray says.
Gray says state and local officials need more federal assistance to fight the epidemic of heroin and prescription opioid abuse through recovery, treatment, and prevention efforts. He says addiction is a disease that should not be stigmatized. Gray criticizes Congress for passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which President Obama signed into law in July, but then not providing any funds to enact it.
In the furor that’s erupted over GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s lewd remarks about women, Gray says the comments are indefensible. He has called on Sen. Paul to publicly disavow his fellow Republican. But Gray says he will work with whoever is elected president.
As for his own race, Gray says he’s experienced at not being the front runner. He says he’s come from behind and still won in competitive contests.