We sat down with the Republican candidate for Attorney General, Jack McMullen, for an editorial board meeting today. He began by talking about the dynamics of a three-way race, which means the race could be won by a plurality of under 50 percent.
It’s unclear how much the independent candidate for AG, Ed Stanak of Barre, will peel away from Sorrell’s support, McMullen said, because Stanak has a strong constituency.
“I distinguish myself in a couple of ways,” McMullen said. “I have a business as well as a law background…. I have a sense for the impact of law on business.”
That would inform the way he’d run the AG’s office, McMullen said, when talking about how he’d be different than incumbent Bill Sorrell.
“Well, business informs you should get ahead of problems…. I would be in the legislature early, giving advice… not on policy… mostly it would be this is the policy you want to do, if you adjust it 15 percent, you could stay out of Constitutional waters,” he said. “…Picking up the mess on the other end is costly, time-consuming.”Sorrell has not been that proactive, McMullen said. He also said he’d work to head off litigation before it happens. The challenger also said Sorrell has been missing in action when it comes to the rise of drug-related crime, instead choosing to focus on consumer protection lawsuits and environmental protection.
“There’s been an explosion of drug-related crime in this state…. I favor TJ Donovan’s approach to this, although I arrived at it independently, which is you bifurcate the crime problem.”
McMullen’s approach would be to split offenders into two tracks. The first group is the hard core criminals: repeat offenders, out of staters, and violent criminals. The second group is first-time offenders, who would go onto a separate track, which would go more quickly to treatment over punishment.
McMullen cited a recent study done at Maple Leaf Farm in Underhill, which which he said showed the second option is far more effective at preventing recidivism than the first, more punitive one.
“I think drug related crime should be job one, should be the top priority for the Attorney General,” McMullen said. “This attorney general has not spent a lot of time on crime.”
Sorrell does not show up in the legislature unless requested, he said, according to accounts from law enforcement and legislators. Sorrell is there on consumer and environmental protection, McMullen said, which are his passions, and may have been more important in the past.
But, the priority now should be to nip this growing problem in bud before it gets out of control, which has happened in New Hampshire, he said.
He’s proposing a statewide task force to hammer out a statewide policy.
“Right now this problems has been left to the 14 states attorneys, who have different policies,” he said. “So the bad guys know where the heat is different. And they game the system.”
He says that he’s heard the need for a statewide standard from mayors and law enforcement.
The other difference between McMullen and Sorrell would be on their approach to government wrongdoing.
“Attorney Gen Sorrell is totally absent from looking at government misdeeds,” McMullen said.
An example, he said is Burlington Telecom, which repeatedly violated their certificate of public good, which among other things stated that the entity can’t borrow for more than 60 days from the public treasury, and this was ignored from day one, McMullen said.
There have been almost no consequences to that, he said, and the lesson that government officials will draw from this is not in the public interest. “Government misdeeds should get the same attention as business misdeeds.”
And are there any places he’d look at in particular?
Wind power is one area, McMullen said. The amount of up-front subsidies are suspicious, and he mentioned a study of the political contributions by corporate wind, including renewable energy businessman David Blittersdorf, by vtdigger.org, which showed them ‘funneling money’ to the Democrats and VPIRG.
“What we have here is a massive conflict of interest,” McMullen said.
Blittersdorf sat on the board that decided where renewable energy investment would go until a few months before the board parceled out the money, much of which went to Blittersdorf, McMullen said.
“I happen to believe in renewable energy. I have more questions about wind than the other forms,” he said. “…Government boondoggles are as important as business boondoggles.”
Priorities are another question for Sorrell, he said.
“Why was the attorney general at the doorstep of Cabot Cheese, in essence saying that Cabot did not have the right to have the Vermont state label on their dairy products?”
McMullen says he would have acted differently, by bringing a more understanding business perspective to the situation, because a company like Cabot has marketed and benefited Vermont for generations, even though it was in technical violation of the law.
Was the case against the auto companies a big success as Sorrell makes it?
“It created a problem for the auto companies, but it also strengthened clean air, so I have to give him credit for that,” he said.
Is the state’s campaign to shut down Vt Yankee ill advised?
He has a nuanced approach, McMullen said, and would look at the question two ways.
“Way no. 1, if I were the elected Attorney General, my job would be to advise the state. I have an obligation to defend that case at the trial level. I do not at appeal. I looked at Murtha’s decision… If it was safety, then that ‘s the job of the NRC… So, what do you do in a case like that? I would assess the likelihood of success on appeal. I would asses that it would cost $4 to $8 million dollars. You’ve got to do a lot of heavy lifting. …My judgement is that we’ve got long odds here. Do we want to … throw that much into the hopper on top of what we’ve already spent on this?”
“So, I’d go to Peter Shumlin… and say, my job is to tell you what the law is. Give me a laundry list and tell me what you want Yankee to do while it’s still operating. By the way, it’s continuing to operate.”
Then he’d go to Vermont Yankee, he said, and see if they could negotiate a ‘fair-minded’ deal, if they can do the laundry list in exchange for withdrawing the federal appeal.
Secondly, as a citizen, he’d wonder why we’re going after a plant that’s been operating for 40 years without significant incident, that employs 600 people, and that delivers consistent, cheap energy into the grid.
He forsees a future where wind energy is expensive relative to nuclear.
However, safety is a foremost consideration and that would be the priority, he said. But, “You want to spend another 4-8 million, on a crapshoot, basically?
McMullen is not yet a member of the Vermont bar.
He is a member of the bars of New York, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C. and the federal courts, but the Attorney General does not have to be a member of the bar.
McMullen pointed out that Sorrell has not been in a trial court in 10 years. “He hasn’t covered himself in glory.”
He said he’s in the process for applying to the Vermont Bar… “It’s a very bureaucratic process…” which takes months in review. “However, to put your mind at ease… the Atty gen doesn’t have to be a lawyer. Second, any year in good standing with a bar recognized by Vermont can apply pro hac vitae.” (at the will of the court).
McMullen favors the death penalty in certain cases, like mass murderers, with no doubt of their guilt, like the alleged Fort Hood shooter. That’s his personal opinion, though, and he would carry out the Vermont law if elected.
“I’m running as an open minded, non-partisan attorney general,” he said.