MONTPELIER — Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan says he will run for attorney general regardless of whether longtime incumbent Bill Sorrell decides to seek re-election.
Donovan, 41, came close to knocking off Sorrell in a 2012 Democratic primary for the state’s top law enforcement position. Donovan lost to Sorrell, who was appointed to the position in 1997 by former Gov. Howard Dean and has won re-election each cycle since, by just 714 votes.
Donovan opted to sit out the 2014 race and instead concentrated on his work in Chittenden County. That work has garnered plenty of attention statewide and has served, in some cases, as pilot projects for the state.
Donovan was honored Friday evening at the Vermont Democratic Party’s annual awards dinner. He did not reveal his plans at the time, however. Instead, Donovan said Monday that he “finalized in my mind over the course of the weekend” that he would run for attorney general again.
“It just makes sense for me to put it out there and end the speculation,” he said. “I received a lot of support on Friday night. I see no reason to be coy. I figured I would put it out there that I’m running.”
Seven Days was first to report Donovan’s decision to run.
Speculation had been running wild for Donovan, and other potential candidates for various statewide offices, since Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced earlier this month that he would not seek a fourth term in 2016. Many political observers wondered if Donovan would opt to run for governor.
But Donovan said he has worked on issues that attorney general’s office addresses and believes it is the best fit at this time.
“I ran for this office 2.5 years ago, came up a little short,” he said. “People call you, people encourage you, people ask you to do things, but I think attorney general is a logical step for me. I feel like it can be a tremendous office in terms of being a great equalizer.”
Donovan said he is planning a more formal announcement that will take place after Labor Day. He said he does not plan to begin addressing policy issues until that time. However, he noted some of his accomplishments as state’s attorney.
He said he was worked closely with Shumlin, who has “really transformed criminal justice in the state of Vermont.” That includes addressing issues with drug addiction and mental health within the judicial system. Donovan said he has worked to create a system that is community-based and focused on treatment.
Additionally, Donovan said he is proud of a driver restoration program he launched that has allowed many drivers with outstanding traffic fines to settle them for a reduced amount so they can legally drive again.
“Those smart approaches are some of the things that I’ve done in the criminal justice system that have benefited Chittenden County. In addition, We’ve been successful on every big case that’s come my way over the past eight years,” he said.
Sorrell, meanwhile, said he does not plan to determine his own future until after an independent investigation into his campaign expenses is completed. Brady Toensing, an attorney and vice chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, filed a complaint against Sorrell alleging that he illegally coordinated with a political group.
Attorney Tom Little was appointed as a special prosecutor to review the case, which normally would be investigated by the attorney general’s office. His findings are expected to be revealed in August.
Sorrell said he would make his intentions clear “sometime after the summer.” He said it is the same time frame he has used in past elections.
“Peter Shumlin’s setting the political world into motion doesn’t change my thinking,” he said. “The Brady Toensing allegations and wanting to focus on getting Tom Little all the information he wants and having the truth come out just reinforces the time frame that I was already on.”
Sorrell said he continues to enjoy serving as attorney general, but has not enjoyed dealing with the case raised by Tensing.
“I enjoy the work. I can’t say that I enjoyed the Toensing assaults on my personal integrity and that I would abuse the integrity of the office. I’m not a masochistic person and that is not fun, whatsoever,” he said.
Several factors will determine whether or not Sorrell, who is the longest-serving attorney general in state history, will seek re-election.
“First and foremost is — have I had enough of the job and do I want to continue to serve in this job? Can I continue to bring a lot of energy and commitment to it?” Sorrell said. “The politics and the need to raise the money in a contested race with one or more opponents in a primary and the general election will factor into the mix, but really will be secondary.”
Donovan said he is committed to a second campaign for attorney general, even if Sorrell does seek re-election.
“I’m running regardless. This isn’t new to me, I did this two years ago. I know this race. I the challenges. I know what I have to do. I’m going to run to win,” he said.