Vermont's primary is less than six weeks away and this year we have an usual race on the Democratic side. Longtime incumbent Attorney General Bill Sorrell is being challenged by Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan.
So what exactly does the attorney general do? The mission of the attorney general is to implement and enforce state laws and as act as counsel for state government. Vermont's attorney general oversees 78 employees, including attorneys and staff, and this year manages a budget of $8.5 million.
Attorney General Bill Sorrell is spending the summer doing something he's never had to-- campaigning.
"Truth is I've never had a primary and I've never had real serious opposition," Sorrell said.
Sorrell served two terms as the Chittenden County state's attorney, spent 11 years in private practice and served as Gov. Howard Dean's secretary of administration. He was appointed to the AG's office 15 years ago and has won re-election seven times. Now the 65-year-old is asking Vermonters to let him keep his job.
"It's a job I love; I have a lot of energy for. I look in the mirror and I feel good about going to work. And when I get home from work, I feel good about what I've done and I want to continue doing it," Sorrell said.
He says he brings more experience to the table than his opponent does. He's confident Vermonters are on his side.
"I don't have any question that I have the majority of support in this state either in early votes now or August 28th," Sorrell said.
He says he's most proud of his work on a lawsuit with big tobacco which brought $300 million into the state, his efforts in making Vermont a national leader in antipollution efforts and, as he puts it, never backing down from a fight.
"You don't want to lose any cases and we do lose some cases, but there's a saying: if you're a prosecutor and you're not losing any cases, then you're not bringing the tough ones," Sorrell said.
Sorrell's lost three federal lawsuits in recent years defending campaign finance laws, prescription data mining and, most recently, against Entergy Louisiana.
"We're disappointed we lost at the trial level," Sorrell said, "but we have a lot of confidence about the fight at the appeals court level in New York City."
The relationship of Bill Sorrell and his opponent, T.J. Donovan, goes far beyond the 2012 AG's race. Their politically connected families have been friends for years. Sorrell says he first met Donovan when he was in a stroller.
"Very close, going back years and years. We went to school together, I was law partners with one of his uncles for 10 years," Sorrell said.
Sorrell says he and Donovan have had a lot of success working together in the past and that he'd gladly endorse Donovan, but only as the next Chittenden County state's attorney.
T.J. Donovan has been splitting his time between campaigning and the courtroom. As the Chittenden County state's attorney, he's responsible for overseeing the criminal prosecution of close to 6,000 cases a year. But after 5.5 years on job, the 38-year-old Democrat is setting his sights on a loftier goal.
"As attorney general I'll be a partner with Governor Shumlin and we'll bring equity and fairness across the state," Donovan said.
Donovan realizes challenging an incumbent will be an uphill battle, but he says after 15 years with Bill Sorrell at the helm, it's time for a change in the AG's office.
"I think what makes me qualified is my record here as state's attorney," Donovan said.
Donovan is the first prosecutor in the state to secure a murder conviction as a result of a drunk driving fatality. The Burlington native is also credited with creating the Rapid Intervention Community Court.
"It's innovative, it's creative and it's cost effective," Donovan said.
He says the nationally recognized program drops misdemeanor charges of low-level criminal offenders with substance abuse and mental health issues if they comply with their treatment plans. Chittenden County has an 80-percent compliance rate and the program has saved taxpayers thousands. It's a model Donovan wants to implement in all 14 counties.
"We've gone through some difficult times in this state the last couple of years. The attorney general can do more for Vermont. I'm going to do that," Donovan said.
Donovan says as AG he'll fight for stricter food labeling laws, the decriminalization of marijuana and a better solution to prescription drug abuse. And as for Vermont Yankee-- he wants the plant closed.
"And I'll go to whatever length necessary to make sure it is shut down," he said.
Donovan comes from a political family; his mother was a state rep, his uncle a senator and his grandfather a mayor. He knows better than anyone that unseating an incumbent will be a challenge. He says the endorsements of a former governor, the state police and even two Republican mayors help get his name out there. But if he didn't have two years left in his current job, he's not sure if this race would even be happening.
"My wife and I, we worry about student loans. We worry about day care costs," Donovan said. "The added cushion of knowing that I'm in the middle of a four-year term certainly helped, no question about it."
Donovan hopes his new energy and vision will be enough to forge a victory at the Democratic primary.
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