Time To Vote: Here Are The Candidates For Vermont Attorney General

Oct 31, 2016

With incumbent Bill Sorrell retiring, Vermont is getting its first new attorney general since 1997. Voters will decide who oversees law enforcement in Vermont, and who defends Vermont’s laws from legal challenges.


Election Results | Election Day Live Blog

What does the attorney general do?

In Vermont, the attorney general serves a two-year term and is the head law enforcement official, tasked with representing the state. According to Wikipedia, the Vermont "AG":

"... provides legal counsel for all state agencies and the Vermont General Assembly, the state's legislative branch. It handles civil and criminal cases in all courts of the state for both the trial and appellate levels. It defends the state when it is sued and files suits to enforce Vermont’s criminal, environmental, consumer protection, civil rights and other laws."

Who's running for attorney general?

Vermont's Attorney General Bill Sorrell has served in his position since 1997, but is not seeking reelection this year. Three candidates are now on the ballot in the general election vying for that open seat:

Where are they on the issues?

All three spoke to VPR's Morning Edition to discuss their candidacies, their stances on various issues and to make a pitch to Vermonters for their vote.

Credit Steve Legge / Image North Photography

  • Republican candidate
  • Town of residence: Walden
  • Has not held elected office in Vermont
  • Bucknam has a law firm in St. Johnsbury.
  • Campaign website

On the opiate crisis: Bucknam says she would "form a task force" comprising a variety of stakeholders throughout Vermont, as well as examine laws for potential reforms.

"What I want to do is, I want to analyze first and inventory the programs that we have presently and see if we can find out what's working and what's not working. The opioid epidemic, as I've said before, is a disease … I will be using law enforcement as a tool to prevent the spread of the disease."

On marijuana legalization: Bucknam opposes legalizing marijuana, but says she would uphold the law should it pass.

"If the law passed I would be the chief law enforcement officer, and the attorney general's office is a nonpartisan office. And obviously we would enforce the law and defend the law if that passed."

On private prisons: Bucknam says we should analyze Vermont's use of out-of-state private facilities to house inmates, including the potential financial impacts.

"I would want to do a cost-benefit analysis of the present system to determine whether we can bring the prisoners home and in a cost-effective way."

On traffic stop disparities for people of color: Bucknam emphasizes the role of training for law enforcement and says there should be an analysis of bias within law enforcement.

"I do not have the information presently as to what the situation is in Vermont and why people of color are pulled over more often. Again, I think it requires an analysis. But certainly, if that is happening and it's happening without any reason, we definitely need more training of our law enforcement officials."

'Elevator pitch' to voters: Bucknam says she's "an outsider," and would bring "small business [and] Northeast Kingdom values" to this statewide office.

"I believe this office should be nonpartisan and above board and without question – any question – of politicizing the office. And I believe I can bring that to this office. I will work for Vermont, for Vermonters, and not for any special interests."

Want to hear more from Deborah "Deb" Bucknam?

  • Democratic candidate
  • Town of residence: South Burlington
  • Donovan is currently Chittenden County state's attorney.
  • Lost to Bill Sorrell in the 2012 Democratic primary for attorney general
  • Campaign website

On the opiate crisis: Donovan says it's the "number one issue" the state is dealing with and he favors a "multi-prong approach" to addressing it with enforcement, intervention, treatment and prevention.

"Obviously if folks are selling drugs for greed or for profit, they should go to jail. But when we talk about holding people accountable, we should also [be] talking about corporate accountability, as well – the big pharmaceutical companies that put into the streets and on the market highly addictive painkilling medication, like OxyContin."

On marijuana legalization: Donovan says he's "a go-slow guy on marijuana legalization" and says there should be a focus on public safety with legalization. He adds marijuana legalization should be approached like alcohol.

"Anybody who has a beer when they're out or has a glass of wine, in the back of their mind, they know what .08 means – the legal standard – and that, it collectively enhances our public safety. We need that standard for marijuana so people can make informed decisions."

On private prisons: Donovan says "they don't work." He's previously spoken out about his desire for Vermont to stop using out-of-state prisons.

"It is a basic duty of government to take care of people who are in their custody. That includes prisoners. And if we as a state say that we're incarcerating too many people, that we need to contract with a private corporation to incarcerate Vermonters, then I say we should be looking at ... how we are incarcerating people."

On traffic stop disparities for people of color: Donovan says inherent bias exists in the criminal justice system and there need to be reforms, such as bail reform.

"It's going to take training. It's going to take management. It's going to take accountability. But at the end of the day, this is about public trust in the system. This is about the integrity of the criminal justice system and trusting citizens and trusting the police to work together."

'Elevator pitch' to voters: Donovan says "it's time for a change" in this office, and adds the attorney general can be a leader on civil rights issues and work to provide environmental protection.

"I'm going to bring common sense and competence to the Office of the Attorney General. I believe in Vermonters. I believe in the trustworthiness of Vermonters. I believe in giving Vermonters an opportunity to succeed. The best way to enforce the law is to give Vermonters the opportunity to comply with it."

Want to hear more from T.J. Donovan?

Credit Courtesy Christine Jackowski

  • Liberty Union candidate
  • Town of residence: Bennington
  • Has not held elected office in Vermont; this is her sixth run for attorney general since 2006.
  • Jackowski is a peace activist and advocacy journalist.
  • Party website

On the opiate crisis: Jackowski says it's a medical issue and should be treated as such.

"I think that it's a serious medical problem and I think that that should be emphasized, as opposed to dealing with it as the war on drugs and so much of a legal issue. I think addiction is a medical problem and should be treated that way."

On marijuana legalization: When asked if she would support legalizing marijuana, Jackowski didn't mince words.

"Absolutely."

On private prisons: Jackowski says she supports ending Vermont's practice of housing inmates in out-of-state private facilities.

"There have been reports of some mistreatment of Vermonters in out-of-state prisons. It also, I think, interferes with important family connections. I think that there might be a cost issue. So there are many reasons, but at the top of my list would be the humanitarian ones."

On traffic stop disparities for people of color: Jackowski says sentencing disparities are a national issue that needs to be addressed; as far as traffic stop disparities, she says there could be improvements to law enforcement training.

"I happen to be a fan of law enforcement. But, I think that there are some improvements that could be made, especially with training and sensitivity. I think that there are some other issues, and what always comes first to my mind are the shootings by police of unarmed people."

'Elevator pitch' to voters: Jackowski highlighted her transparency online and why she sees being a third-party candidate as a benefit.

"I think I have a lot of plans for some changes. And one of these plans is I believe that there should be a 24-hour hotline, because many times there is a citizen who is injured or has a problem as a consumer, and very often these people have trouble getting through. And if there was a 24-hour hotline – which wouldn't necessarily cost money and could maybe save some money – I think that that's one of the things that could help."

Want to hear more from Rosemarie Jackowski?

Time To Vote: Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

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