Politics

T.J. Donovan running for Vermont Attorney General

Attorney General Bill Sorrell and Chittenden County State's Attorney TJ Donovan, who challenged him in the primary but conceded Wednesday morning, made a show of unity at the Democratic Party's unity rally. VTD Photo/Taylor Dobbs

Attorney General Bill Sorrell and Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, at a unity rally following the 2012 primary. File photo by Taylor Dobbs/VTDigger

Democrat T.J. Donovan will run for Vermont Attorney General in the 2016 election, regardless of what incumbent Bill Sorrell decides.

The Chittenden County state’s attorney told Seven Days on Sunday that he has decided to make a second bid for the office held by fellow Democrat Sorrell.

Donovan said Monday that Gov. Peter Shumlin’s decision to bow out of the race 18 months before the next election has accelerated the campaign season, and he saw no reason not to tell people he is running. Supporters encouraged him to run after he gave a speech at the Democrats’ annual David Curtis Awards dinner in Burlington on Friday night.

“I had a lot of supportive people who came up to me,” Donovan said. “I thought about it, and there’s no reason to be quiet about it. I’m running and there’s no reason to keep it a secret. There are no secrets in politics, so why not be open and honest about the fact that I’m running for attorney general.”

There is also a practical reason for Donovan’s early announcement: He needs to raise money, upward of $200,000, to win a possible primary against the 68-year-old Sorrell, the incumbent. Sorrell said Monday that he would not announce his intentions until a campaign finance complaint against him is resolved

“I want to win, and you win by being prepared, you win by having a team, a finance team and a political team,” Donovan said.

Donovan lost to Sorrell, who has held the seat since 1997, by 714 votes in the 2012 primary.

Sorrell coasted to victory in the 2012 general election and was unchallenged in 2014, but he now faces allegations that he violated campaign finance laws. The Committee for Fairness and Justice, the Democratic Attorneys General Association super PAC, spent nearly $200,000 on media buys to support Sorrell’s primary race against Donovan in 2012.

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Brady Toensing, vice chair of the Vermont Republican Party, alleges that Sorrell violated campaign finance laws by coordinating with the Committee for Fairness and Justice on the media blitz that helped him edge out Donovan.

Tom Little, who is conducting an independent investigation into the charges, is expected to deliver his findings to an eight-member panel of state’s attorneys by the end of August. Sorrell says he is cooperating “fully” with the investigation. He is compiling responses to the allegations this week.

“I have nothing to hide, and I look forward to responding to each and every one of the allegations,” Sorrell said.

The attorney general “won’t even think about” running for a 10th term until the investigation is over and the report has been released. “My priority right now is to maintain the integrity of my office, and my personal integrity in the face of these allegations,” he said Monday.

Donovan, 41, has built a reputation on implementing innovative criminal justice programs that address underlying poverty issues that often go hand in hand with crime. He gave drivers with suspended licenses amnesty in a one-day pilot program in March. Hundreds of residents from Chittenden, Washington, Lamoille and Grand Isle counties took advantage of the program and reinstated their licenses for $20. Donovan billed the program as a way to help poor people with unpaid traffic tickets go back to work. In 2012, he introduced a rapid intervention program that diverts drug addicts from the prison system and into substance abuse treatment.

“I want to be a champion for everyday Vermonters, for people who need a hand up,” Donovan said. “The attorney general can be a great equalizer and can fight to level the playing field for everyday Vermonters. That’s what I’ve done in this office. I’ve brought drug reform, driver restoration programs, and that kind of collaboration and leadership is what I want to bring to the Attorney General’s Office.”

Donovan says as attorney general he will be focused on championing issues that affect middle-class Vermonters, including consumer rights, environmental protection and criminal justice.

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Anne Galloway

About Anne

Anne Galloway is the founder and editor of VTDigger and the executive director of the Vermont Journalism Trust. Galloway founded VTDigger in 2009 after she was laid off from her position as Sunday editor of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus. VTDigger has grown from a $16,000 a year nonprofit with no employees to a $2 million nonprofit daily news operation with a staff of 25. In 2017, Galloway was a finalist for the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics, the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award and the Investigative Reporters and Editors FOIA Award for her investigation into allegations of foreign investor fraud at Jay Peak Resort.

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