On Tuesday, Aug. 28, Vermont holds its statewide primary election. In the hottest primary going, voters will choose the Democratic nominee for Vermont attorney general in the general election Nov. 6.
It’s been a long, hot summer for incumbent Bill Sorrell, who has been attorney general 15 years and has been re-elected seven times, and his challenger, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan.
The race has been informative, clean and respectful. In an age of shameful, dirty politics, these two candidates have proved Vermont to be the worthy exception.
The issues facing the state government’s top lawyer are greater and more challenging than ever: substance abuse, reforming the criminal justice system, standing up for civil rights, and working closely with both law enforcement officials and communities to curb crime and recidivism.
As Chittenden County’s state’s attorney, Donovan has shown he has the innovative ideas needed to tackle those issues and the leadership skills to put those ideas to work.
Donovan is the right person at the right time for this job.
For Vermont voters, the primary process has been a success: informative, intelligent, eye-opening. Donovan spotlighted key issues and came forward with ideas on how to address them. He’s young, energetic, has a curious analytical mind, has fought crime and raised community issues at the grass-roots level, and he believes the attorney general should fight for the right to serve Vermonters.
Sorrell hasn’t faced this kind of challenge in his decade and a half in office, winning all seven elections handily — sometimes being on both the Democratic and Republican tickets.
This time, he’s had to account for his time in office, his style and his accomplishments.
Sorrell has had major accomplishments. He joined the national lawsuit against big tobacco, and the effort was successful, netting a huge payout for Vermont; he’s successfully joined national lawsuits against polluters, most notably against big energy producers that send acid rain our way, again netting huge payouts for Vermont; he successfully defended Vermont’s strict auto-emission standards.
But the big cases are just part of the job, and when it has come to the rest, he has been removed.
Part of it is just Sorrell’s style. He is not a great communicator and he hasn’t focused enough of his energies on talking with the public or with local officials in Vermont. He has appeared distant and remote — at least until he faced a real challenger.
The AG’s office is a big place, with lawyers defending the state’s interests regionally, nationally and internationally. But the office also has a critical role locally, and that’s where Donovan’s strengths shine. Crime rates in Vermont are on the rise — violent crime, often connected to drug abuse and dealing.
Donovan has been dealing directly with those issues, and as a candidate he has proposed programs to tackle the prescription-drug problem and recidivism; his record shows that he’s tough on crime but understands that the solution to crime reduction isn’t just throwing criminals behind bars.
Donovan has proven that he’s willing to work closely with law enforcement, social-service agencies and community leaders to address social, health and environmental problems. His Rapid Intervention Community Court program, a criminal intervention program conducted in partnership with community groups, has won national awards. His management of the busiest state’s attorney office in the state is solid.
In the campaign, Donovan has reached out and listened in a way that has never occurred with the sitting attorney general. In every respect, he has shown that he will be an engaged, connected-to-the-communities Vermont attorney general who, if he does not immediately have the solutions to problems, will go out and seek knowledgeable, boots-on-the-ground folks to help him develop them.
He’s the right guy for the job.
It’s worth noting that Vermont primaries are open. That means any voter can pick up a Democratic ballot and vote in this primary. Since the AG’s race is arguably the most important thing on any ballot come Aug. 28, bone up on the race, and cast your vote.