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Rufus Gifford, Candidate For Niki Tsongas Seat is All About Green Jobs

Former Ambassador to Denmark, Rufus Gifford visited Groton last Friday to talk with voters at Salt and Light Cafe about his campaign for the Congressional seat now held by Niki Tsongas. Photo by John MacLeod

 Rufus Gifford is running for Congress. Last Friday he stopped by the Salt and Light Café as part of a coffee and conversation tour of cities and towns in the Massachusetts third congressional district. After sharing java at the café with constituents, he came up stairs to the Groton Herald to chat for a few minutes. 

   His vision for the district’s future: green jobs, green economy. He is passionate about education. He was the US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark. He raised a billion dollars while serving as National Finance Director of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Moreover, he has his own Netflix show: I’m the Ambassador—more about that later.

   Gifford is a local boy. He grew up in Manchester by the Sea. Attended St. Paul’s in Concord, NH. Dad was Bank of America Chairman. Fresh out of Brown University, he moved to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry. “I learned over the course of my twenties that I wasn’t particularly interested or good in the entertainment industry,” Gifford says now. 

   In 2004 Gifford came back to Massachusetts to volunteer for John Kerry’s presidential campaign; a few months later he was hired—first job in a new career path. 

   Next came a political consulting business stint. In 2007 Gifford worked on Obama’s first presidential campaign. He took the position of Finance Director of the DNC in 2008. But his job as National Finance Director for President Obama’s election campaign in 2012 is where he showed his mettle. His boss, Obama’s campaign manager, gave him the task of raising one billion dollars. “After I picked myself off the floor,” Gifford recalls, “I realized this has never been done. You can’t do it. You’re not talking seven figure checks. We’re under McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.” 

   Gifford built an army of supporters to help successfully raise the billion dollars from clean political sources. 

   On August 15, 2013 Gifford became US Ambassador to Denmark. I asked what elements of Danish society could be transferred here based on his three years living there—particularly with regards to healthcare and education. “Bernie (Sanders) talked a lot in 2016 about how we need to emulate a Danish-style system. There’s some interesting facts there but we just can’t simply do it (transfer Danish healthcare to America). 

  American culture is fundamentally different in a lot of ways. That being said, when we talk about Medicare for all, a universal health system, I think there are things we can learn from Denmark. I think a Commonwealth like Massachusetts could work towards a Medicare-for-all type system. It would be much more palatable in Massachusetts than it would be nationally and maybe we should try to move in that direction locally as a model for the country but it wouldn’t be Danish; it couldn’t be Danish,” he said.

   Gifford believes we need to remedy the debt students take on after college and/or graduate school. In Denmark and most of Europe, students graduate with zero debt. Danish students are paid to go to college. He said, “…we need to do something about eliminating the real plague of student debt in particular. It’s not real Danish style but it’s something. I think we need to get a little closer to a European model.”

   Gifford believes green jobs are transferable to the local economy. He cites wind farm manufacturing as a business that we can do in the district. “These companies are very profitable. People are working in traditional, old school union manufacturing jobs and they’re green—so they’re saving the planet. 

   I believe there is a Manhattan Project for green jobs in the third district of Massachusetts.” Besides the small wind farm off Block Island, there isn’t a single commercial off-shore windfarm in the United States. European companies have been producing wind farm technology. He noted, “…everything from the shipping to the wires running underneath the sea, to the platforms that these things stand on, all the gears and what not…now the Europeans produce them and they have to be imported. 

   Think about the kind of jobs that could be created in the third district of Massachusetts if we really invest (in green energy). Again, these are old school—highly skilled but old school manufacturing jobs. In a part of the district like Fitchburg, which is not too far from here, which is still about 20 percent manufacturing jobs in that part of the district but they’re declining. 

   Couldn’t this be a boom? And not only that at the same time it could spur the economy and save the planet. It’s like a three-for as far as I’m concerned. This is what I talk about, what I’ve learned from Denmark. This is a big deal and something I think we can learn. I also think they can learn from us.”

   There are about 11 Democrats and two Republicans so far running for the third district nomination. The primary is Tuesday, September 4 and the state-wide election is Tuesday, Nov. 6. 

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