Profiles of Effective LawmakersAlabama


March 10, 2023

There are many traits that mark a successful athlete — endurance, agility, passion, patience, and most importantly, ability to work on a team. While being an athlete might not be the first career that you think of to prepare someone for elected office, these traits can translate very well to the legislature. Don’t believe it? Look at Rep. Jeremy Gray.

Despite hearing concerns he was “too young,” Representative Jeremy Gray (D-AL) ran for elected office and won in his home state of Alabama in 2018. Being thrown into the state legislature as a young person can sort of be like being thrown onto a new team having missed spring training, “if you really understand the foundation of politics, you know it’s really a game of who knows who and who knows what. The less information you know, the more people benefit around you… Being able to really learn from other young people who have gone through this process is invaluable. They can actually give you the tools you need to be effective in your own state because often as young people, you don’t get that,” said Rep. Gray as he reflected on his time as a young person new to the state legislature.

These obstacles did not affect Gray however, because he had years of experience overcoming barriers while keeping his eye on the prize, “for me, it was really about a vision I had for my community — wanting to do things I didn’t see happening and I didn’t see representation for young people…”

Representative Gray serves one of the most diverse and young districts in Alabama with the average age of 35.8 years old — that’s 91% younger than the average age of Alabamans. He is in the super-minority having a D next to his name, but he hasn’t let that set him back in advancing policy solutions for his community. “At the end of the day, what’s best for Alabama is what’s best for me, and if I find someone across the aisle or even in my caucus who wants that, I’m 100% on board whether I am leading or following. If I believe in the vision and if it’s a true mission — I’m on board with it.”

If you have one conversation with him, you can quickly hear his competitive side come out. While competition in politics is typically applied in party politics, Rep. Gray is not interested in competing in the partisan Olympics, “For me, we are not competing against each other, rather we are competing for resources, we are competing for incentives for businesses to come into our state. I’m on the side of someone who understands that we are on the same side and wants to get those wins for our state,” said Rep. Gray. Since being elected, he has consistently worked across the aisle to help pass effective policy including legislation that lifted the 28-year ban on yoga in Alabama’s K-12 schools. He was even recently nominated by Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, to serve on the Alabama Statewide Health Coordinating Council and Innovate Alabama, where he works on health and wellness issues at a systemic level.

It’s clear that for Rep. Gray, the win is impact, not party scores — a lesson that he has learned from his MAP colleagues throughout his time being in the network. “When I think of someone who is impactful, I think of the young people across the nation who are doing amazing things. For me, I was told I was “too young” when I was 32 years old, then I see someone like [Rep.] Ajay Pittman who ran for office in her 20’s. She’s been in office longer than me, she’s a legacy, and she’s done all of these great things — that really inspires me to think ‘well I guess I’m not too young and I can dream big and pass major legislation…’ Young people really gave me the tools I needed to go in and say ‘look Alabama, I see a lot of young people doing a lot of great things — I need to be one of those.’”

His grit, teachability, and teamwork are the driving forces of his life. This year, he is relaunching the MAP Alabama Future Caucus alongside his Republican colleague, Rep. Wes Kitchens to further advance young people’s priorities in his state. In 2022, he won MAP’s Rising Star Award for his work across the aisle, and he hasn’t forgotten about his home team either — in fact, he was recently named Minority Whip for the Democratic caucus in the Alabama statehouse. “In the American Dream that I envision, people actually look at the candidates on paper instead of just the party. We look at the issues that move our state forward instead of the politics that help us get re-elected. If we really focus on the mission of why we are really here, I think we would have a better outcome in politics.”

Watch the full interview with Rep. Gray in the video above.

Rep. Sara Jacobs


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