Side by side candidate comparison for the Democratic primary for Vermont Attorney General

On the Issues

A side by side comparison of the candidates’ views taken from speeches, interviews and statements.

Bill Sorrell


  • Job: Vermont Attorney General
  • Birthday: March 9, 1947 (Pisces)
  • Major issue: Vermont Yankee
  • Big triumph: Tobacco settlement
  • Campaign slogan: “Bold Vision. Big Results.”
  • Favorite movie: “Caddyshack”
  • Sports fandom: Red Sox, Notre Dame football

TJ Donovan


  • Job: Chittenden County State’s Attorney
  • Birthday: Jan. 15, 1974 (Capricorn)
  • Major issue: Burlington Telecom
  • Big triumph: Rapid Intervention program
  • Campaign slogan: “Doing More for Vermont”
  • Favorite movie: “The Outlaw Josey Wales”
  • Sports fandom: Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots

Health Care

End of Life Care – “Death with Dignity”

Sorrell supports the state’s adoption of an Oregon-style death with dignity law. In 2004, he launched the Vermont Attorney General End of Life Care Initiative, to address pain and symptom management in end of life care and to remove barriers to insurance reimbursement for hospice services, pain management and palliative care.

Donovan also wants to see Vermont pass a statute modeled after the 1997 Oregon law that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with self-administered lethal medications prescribed by a doctor. “I support it. It’s about choice. It’s about dignity.”

“I think there’s enough safeguards in place, and I think Oregon is a good example of a law that works.”*

Health Care Reform

“We are confident that the constitutionality of the entire law will be upheld on appeal and ultimately by the United States Supreme Court. In the meantime, the numerous health care reforms provided in the federal health reform law will continue to be implemented to the benefit of all Americans.”

“As attorney general, I look forward to engaging with Governor Shumlin and the Legislature, to make sure the law stands up in court and passes legal muster, so that Vermonters can be certain they’ll have access to affordable health care.” From Donovan release when health care law was deemed constitutional.



“The thought that if we just lock people up that they’re going to come out better citizens — that’s just wishful thinking. We need to engage experts on what we can do for those in our system.”*

“But I do not pretend to be an expert on what those programs would be. I would defer to psychologists and psychiatrists and other experts on that.”*

“I’ve certainly made mistakes in sending people to jail when I should’ve done a better job of trying to help them. But I think what I’ve tried to do is give people second chances. We’ve developed a great community Corps program in Chittenden County that addresses the issues of substance abuse and mental illness in the county. We are addressing these issues because I think you can no longer separate the issue of poverty and crime.”

Child Sexual Abuse and Child Porn


“Thanks to my initiative, the Legislature has just appropriated $200,000 to enhance law enforcement’s battles against the online sharing of identified child pornography. A newly-authorized criminal investigator in my office will be dedicated to this fight. With the help of others, we will increase our efforts to go after the hundreds of individual computer users in this state who violate our child pornography laws and who so unfortunately pose such real risk of sexual predation on Vermont’s children.”


The attorney general is seeking money for lawyers, the state’s attorney, all 14 of us across the state say we want more investigators, more police to investigate these types of crimes. So we’re all on the same team in terms of going against these guys, but we just think there should be more investigators.

Prescription Drugs

“I’ve met with police chiefs around the state just the last few weeks to talk about their drug problems and what more we can do.”

“The reality is that we need more resources for treatment of those who are drug addicts in this state.”

“The biggest issue facing communities like St. Albans, Burlington, and others across this state is the issue of prescription drugs.”

“I’ll collaborate with our local officials. I’ll work closely with our medical community as well to develop best practices so we start screening for addiction before prescribing this medication. We also have to invest in community-based treatment in this state.”


“For whatever reason, the Vermont Legislature has thus far not decriminalized marijuana, I’m sure it will be taken up in January and if I was a legislator I would vote for it.”

I support decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, consistent with the laws in every New England state, except New Hampshire.

“Second Chance” Policy framework

Consumer Protection

Big Tobacco


“Four weeks to the day after taking the oath of office, I sued big tobacco. As a result of that suit, Vermont has received over $300 million, and unless Americans stop their addiction to cigarettes and thereby conquer what remains the greatest avoidable public health problem confronting this state and this nation, Vermont will continue to receive at least $25 million a year, every year, forever from the settlement of that one lawsuit.”


“I’m a candidate who’s not funded by big tobacco. Of course I’m against big tobacco, and the money from the national settlement is coming in regardless of Bill Sorrell being attorney general or not.”*

Cyber Security

“The most significant danger facing Vermonters today is online safety. I take this danger very seriously, and am committing my office’s resources and creativity to work with Vermont consumers and businesses to combat it.”

“I deal with consumer fraud issues every day in my job as state’s attorney. We are going to have the most aggressive robust consumer fraud unit in the country. We’re going to protect Vermonters and protect kids as well from online predators.”*

Civil Rights/Police Accountability

Migrant Workers

“This is essentially a situation where the Vermont state police, as have already Burlington police and Middlebury and a number of sheriff’s departments … have adopted a policy that says: ‘Our main focus is going to be Vermont criminal statute violations and we’re not going to go out of our way to one: investigate just simple immigration law violations, and two: we’re not going to feel compelled in every instance that doesn’t fit federal enforcement priorities to turn those individuals over to federal authorities.'”

“I believe everyone within Vermont’s borders are valuable members of the community and we should all be afforded the same rights and protections. It’s about access to justice. No victim should ever be afraid to report a crime, and no one should ever be afraid to seek medical attention, out of fear of deportation. The primary purpose of detaining someone should never be about their immigration status, and I’ll work closely with law enforcement officials to ensure that racial profiling does not happen in our communities.”

Public Records Law


Sorrell said investigations of police misconduct involving lethal force should be open, but criminal cases against residents should be presumed closed to protect the privacy of those never charged.


“The enactment of a Vermont equivalent of FOIA exemption 7 will not end the debate over specific records of criminal investigations. Instead, such an enactment will put the debate on a sounder footing, with a presumption favoring disclosure weighed against legitimate needs for confidentiality in a specific case. The burden then will be on prosecutors to justify specific reasons for withholding from the public records of criminal investigations. In the final analysis, the rule should be access absent harm.”

Criminal investigation public records policy framework

Marriage Equality

“My office remains active on the same-sex marriage litigation front. It is likely that we will be filing alone or with other states a brief in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in a pending New York case. And we almost certainly will weigh in at the Supreme Court level if the Court elects to hear the 9th Circuit and/or 1st Circuit cases during this next term,” Sorrell wrote in an email.

“As attorney general, I will do everything within my power both legally and by reaching out to other attorney generals to help build national support for efforts to ensure equal rights and equal protection for all Vermonters.”

“Federal law withholds from some married people the rights it grants others. For example, federal law prevents same-sex married couples from filing joint federal tax returns, which can lessen tax burdens. Federal law prevents the surviving or divorced spouse of a same-sex marriage from collecting Social Security benefits on an equal basis enjoyed by other married persons.”

Law Enforcement Training and Taser Policy

Video: Vermont’s Attorney General Gets Tased

“As is the case with any lethal or less lethal means of force, personnel should be appropriately trained by competent instructors in the use of the Taser. Consideration should be given to a requirement that an officer be subjected to being tased or at least afforded the opportunity to be Tased before being authorized to carry a Taser in the line of duty.

“First, each local community should decide whether or not to allow the use of Tasers in that community. Towns should be given the tools they need to have informed community conversations about whether or not to allow the use of Tasers in their local jurisdiction. As attorney general, I would work with key stakeholder groups, such as the Vermont ACLU, the League of Cities and Towns and the Vermont State Troopers and Sheriffs Associations, as well as mental health advocacy groups, to develop a toolkit for towns to have this important conversation.”

Donovan policy framework

Prosecution of Law Enforcement


“In the criminal arena, my office has worked efficiently and productively with all levels of police in many of Vermont’s most notorious cases. We have successfully prosecuted murderers, rapists and those who prey on our most vulnerable. We lead the fight in the Attorney General’s office against trafficking in dangerous drugs. Vermonters expect and are entitled to even-handed justice.”

First-hand reporting from campaign launch

“Leadership is not about notches on your belt. Leadership is about doing the right thing for the right reasons. … I’ve also demonstrated as state’s attorney that I’ll stand up to the police when I need to. Just look at — I’ve been sued, I’ve testified in federal court against an officer.”*


Vermont Yankee

“Zealous and impartial enforcement of our campaign finance laws will remain a priority, and this two-fisted attorney general will fight, fight, fight to uphold Vermont’s laws giving Vermonters a real say as to the future of Entergy’s operations in this state.”

“I think Vermont Yankee is unconstitutional. I am very clear about that. I think it should be shut down. Whether Bill Sorrell or myself, we are going to fight to the fullest extent to whatever necessary to make sure it’s shut down.”

GMO Labeling

“GMO labeling — and this was a concern of the legislators after we went in and did our job and expressed, with legislative counsel there, that there was a very big risk … [that] there is a big-time risk if you have mandatory GMO labeling that we could be sued and we could lose and then pay more attorneys’ fees.”

“Vermonters deserve to know what’s in their food. As a father and as a consumer, I believe we have the right to make informed decisions on what goes into our bodies. I’ll work with our Legislature in the committee room and do the scrutiny up front to help them pass a law that stands up in the court of law and keeps Vermonters informed on the food they choose to eat.”

*VTDigger interviewed the candidates for this feature. All other quotes were excerpted from prior stories, debates or interviews with the candidate.

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