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A review of the Vermont Attorney General Democratic primary race

Vermont Attorney General office logo on a podium
Pat Bradley
/
WAMC
Vermont Attorney General office logo on a podium

All of Vermont’s statewide offices are up for election this year. In the Attorney General’s race there is no incumbent, but the Democratic primary features two people who have experience working in the office.

On May 5th then-Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, who had served in the position since 2017, announced he would not run for re-election. He has since stepped down altogether for a private sector job.

The next day Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault announced he would run. Since 2016 the former JAG attorney had served as a deputy state’s attorney, an assistant attorney general and in 2018 he became the Washington County State’s Attorney. He says as Attorney General he would focus on four priorities: criminal justice reform, defending democracy and fundamental rights, environmental justice, public safety and protecting Vermonters

“On day one as Vermont's Attorney General I'd be ready to stare down our most complex cases and our most serious public safety threats along with a commitment to what I call Vermont values. And quite simply put I think those are equity, integrity, and empathy.”

Four days after Donovan’s announcement, his Chief of Staff Charity Clark stepped down “to explore new opportunities.” Clark was hired in 2014 as an assistant Attorney General by then-Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell and was named chief of staff by Donovan in 2018.

A week after she left, she announced her own campaign.

“As an Assistant Attorney General and Chief of Staff at the Attorney General’s office I have seen firsthand what our communities are facing and I know how to utilize leverage the office of Attorney General for the best results.”

The two Democrats have disagreed in several policy areas during debates. Asked about investigations into the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers during a July VTDigger forum, Clark responded she would not change the process.

“We did in 2020 I believe change the standard of review and that went into place last year I believe so it’s been about a year that that new standard has been in place and I think it’s probably early still to see if any additional changes need to be made to that.”

Moderator Alan Keays turned to the other candidate. “Mr. Thibault?”

“I disagree," replied Thibault. "I don’t think the system is working. I don’t think Vermonters have confidence in how our law enforcement or prosecutorial agencies are responding to the review of officer involved shootings."

During that same debate Clark and Thibault were asked what differentiates themselves from each other. Clark says she always considers the average Vermonter in her work.

“It is these last four years serving as chief of staff that put me in a role that is most similar to the Attorney General and prepared me best to be the next Attorney General. We need an Attorney General with the understanding of the breadth and scope of the office to leverage the office for the best results for Vermont and for Vermonters and I will be ready to lead on day one.”

“I’m an experienced litigator," noted Thibault, "and I’m equally comfortable in court or in the Statehouse committee rooms advocating for change. As Attorney General I will use my experiences and perspective to lead the way on achieving a 21st Century criminal justice system that’s rooted in empathy, equity and transparency.”

Progressive Elijah Bergman is also running.

Vermont law allows candidates to run for more than one office at a time. Republican H. Brooke Paige is running unopposed for Attorney General. He is also running for Secretary of State, Auditor of Accounts and State Treasurer.

In June, Republican Governor Phil Scott appointed former Deputy Attorney General and Secretary of Administration Susanne Young to serve as Attorney General until the end of the current term.

Vermont’s primary is August 9th.

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