Dean endorses Sorrell in primary race with Donovan

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Former Gov. Howard Dean described his decision to endorse the re-election bid of Attorney General William Sorrell on Thursday as “a choice between ambition and experience. And I’m voting for experience.”

Dean said that Sorrell, who faces Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan in the Aug. 28 Vermont Democratic primary, understands “that he represents all Vermonters and he understands the Legislature.” He added that “there are some in this race who don’t know what this job is about. It’s not about making pronouncements or back door criticisms. It’s about doing your job for all the people of the state of Vermont and defending the laws as passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.”

Asked whether the criticism was a reference to Donovan, he declined to clarify and joked about having too much political experience to let anyone put words in his mouth. The other announced major party candidate is Republican Jack McMullen.

After a joint press conference on the back steps of Burlington City Hall, Sorrell and Dean went inside to complete their ballots on the first day of early voting.

“I think it’s fine to talk about what policy you are going to do and what policy you are not going to do,” Dean said. “But the truth of the matter is that that’s not the attorney general’s job.”

The former governor described Donovan as a “nice guy” and a capable politician, but quickly added that Vermonters “already have an attorney general, and we don’t need another one.” Defining the election as a “choice between ambition and experience,” he argued that Sorrell “knows the job cold” and has done “everything we’ve asked, including some very tough things that would have been political unpopular.”

“I don’t want a guy who is going to consider whether something is politically unpopular or not in the office of attorney general,” he said. “This is not a political job.” Not only does Sorrell have the best experience, Dean added, he “doesn’t have his eye on any other office.”

Sorrell welcomed the backing and described himself as aggressive in areas such as environmental and consumer protection. During the last legislative session, he noted, “I convinced the Legislature to appropriate $100,000 for enhanced consumer protection efforts in our office,” was well as another $200,000 for law enforcement “to better fight online sharing of child pornography.” He also mentioned his success in making violations of state anti-trust law subject to criminal penalties.

Dean added Sorrell’s work on campaign finance reform, leadership of the National Attorney General’s Association, and efforts in settling a national anti-tobacco lawsuit that will provide millions to support Vermont health efforts “as long as people continue to smoke.”

Sorrell and Dean have known each other for more than 30 years. At the press conference Sorrell recalled meeting Dean when his mother Esther Sorrell introduced the “nice young doctor” who was eating cookies in their living room. Their children subsequently went to the same pre-school.

In Winning Back America, the 2003 book Dean wrote during his run for president, he recalled meeting the candidate’s mother, who lived five doors from Dean and his wife, during the re-election campaign of President Jimmy Carter. “It was Esther who got me involved in politics in Vermont,” he wrote.

After Dean had been in the state for just two years, Esther Sorrell was also instrumental in helping him to become a national Democratic delegate. The Sorrell family “shaped me into a pragmatic Democrat,” he wrote.

In 1992, after William Sorrell was Chittenden State’s Attorney – the job Donovan currently holds – Governor Dean appointed him secretary of administration. Dean stressed that Sorrell won the job because he was the most qualified, and “was not picked because I knew him.”

Greg Guma

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  • Elaine Dermas

    Roy’s comment would make sense if Sorrell had not been up for election a bunch of times. We reelected him, not dean.
    Clearly if he’d been doing a poor job, someone would have had a go at the office before. TJ’s running now because he wants to use the AG office as a stepping stone, which means the office will likely become more political than it has been under Sorrell. I don’t like that. Look at VA’s AG for an example of political ambition in the office.

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