Lobbyist Matt Gray is probably best-known around the Capitol for a client he represented for only a year—the Free Speech Coalition, an advocacy group representing the adult film industry.
But Gray said that’s only part of his story. He’s a former teenaged political activist, a Capitol staffer with several years under his belt, a free speech advocate for many groups, has led charges for prison reform, and has a keen interest in new technologies.
And he almost wasn’t around for any of it.
“I watched a family member gunned down in front of me,” Gray said. “Then the gun was turned on me and I was shot and left for dead. I was 13 when that happened.”
Gray won’t talk about the specifics of the incident, though it is familiar to some friends. But he does say surviving that day—and plus 12 days in the hospital with a collapsed lung, followed by a months-long recovery—changed the way he views life. He got another reminder five years ago this week when Lloyd Lutz, his best friend of 19 years, died in a freak bicycle accident.
“It gives you perspective as a person when you realize life is fleeting,” Gray said. “My eyes welled up the first time I held my daughter because I’d never thought something so good would happen to me.”
Today Gray’s daughter is six, his son three. He’s been married for seven years, since a ceremony performed by his former boss, retired Assemblyman John Vasconcellos.
It was in Vasconcellos’ office where Gray’s career started as a 19 year-old intern attending community college. Gray grew up in Los Altos, becoming politically active as a teenager concerned about issues like homelessness and the Iran-Contra affair.
There days Vasconcellos describes Gray “bright” and “thorough.” “He really knows the building,” Vasconcellos said.
Though he came in a little wet-behind-the-ears, according to Vasconcellos telling, he quickly matured. Gray later joined his staff fulltime, only leaving in 2004 when Vasconcellos’ four-decade career ended in the Senate due to term limits.
Gray moved over to the lobbying side, founding the firm Capitol Alliance, now run with David Warren. Besides his short tenure with the Free Speech Alliance, he has representing the Association of Club Executives, a group that speaks for strip clubs, for several years. He said he’s motivated by a concern for free speech, a case he will make to voters.
“Everyone deserves to have input in a democratic process, and clearly I don’t shy away from facing the tough issues or standing my ground,” Gray said. “I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. That’s what I do.”