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Dem primary for Vt. attorney general heats up

By Wilson Ring
Associated Press / May 28, 2012
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MONTPELIER, Vt.—The Democratic primary race for attorney general is heating up as Chittenden County State's Attorney T. J. Donovan tries to wrestle the party mantle from 15-year incumbent William Sorrell by using a series of endorsements and a call for change.

But Sorrell, who's facing his first serious electoral challenge since he was appointed in 1997, is countering with his own list of endorsements and he's more than willing to stand on his record and his vision for the future.

Both candidates say they're eager to debate their positions as they travel the state looking for support.

"There are new challenges facing this state. And I think there's a clear choice in the race. Bill talks about an accomplishment with tobacco, which was great. That was 1997. That was the No. 1 public health issue," Donovan said, referring to a settlement with the tobacco industry that brings millions of dollars into state coffers every year. "I believe the No. 1 public health issue is prescription drugs and we need leadership. We need the chief law enforcement officer to be involved."

Donovan said he's also worked to reduce the rate at which inmates are returned to custody after they are released from prison and he's known for other alternative justice projects.

Sorrell said he's running on his established record of environmental and consumer protection while defending the laws that were passed by the Legislature. During his tenure, Sorrell said, he ushered hundreds of millions of dollars into the state through enforcement actions, including the tobacco settlement, which will bring $25 million a year to the state for as long as the tobacco industry is in business.

His office has also prosecuted, or helped prosecute, and won convictions in some of the highest-profile crimes in the state in the last 15 years. And the office is working to protect Vermonters from online threats, be it making sure people know how to use Facebook safely or child pornographers.

"Voters know what they have with me as attorney general. It's not like I'm sitting on my hands," Sorrell said.

Vermont's primary election is scheduled for Aug. 28. So far no Republican candidate has entered the race, though Burlington businessman Jack McMullen said Monday that he would probably enter if he can put a campaign team together.

The deadline for major party candidates to get on the primary ballot is June 14.

Sorrell, 65, was appointed attorney general in 1997 by then-Gov. Howard Dean after Sorrell's predecessor was appointed to the state Supreme Court. Sorrell first ran for re-election in 1998 and has been re-elected every two years since. He had previously served as Chittenden County state's attorney, the same position Donovan now holds.

Donovan, 38, is a Burlington native who was first elected Chittenden County state's attorney in 2006.

State Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, said he would most likely support whichever Democratic candidate wins the primary. But he said that he would endorse Donovan in the primary because of his work on efforts to reduce the state's prison population and the number of reoffenders and because of his work to fight the opiate drug problem.

"T.J. is more attuned, I think, to those issues. I do not have a necessary issue with Bill, it's more of what T.J. has brought to the table and more in line with my views on how the (criminal) justice system should work," Sears said.

Addison County Sen. Claire Ayer, a Democrat, said she would do what she could to support Sorrell's re-election.

"He takes care of the little things. He pays attentions to Vermonters," Ayer said. "He is the logical choice from my point of view."

Facing a primary campaign is different, but it will pay dividends for Vermonters, Sorrell said.

"I have had the luxury of being able to focus on the job rather than the politics of campaigning," Sorrell said. "This year I have a campaign. I accept that. One of the benefits is more Vermonters will become familiar with what the attorney general does."

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