Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: T.J. Donovan wants to be AG

T.J. Donovan holds the mic for forum moderator Mike Bethel
while Vermont state Sen. Dick Sears looks on

BENNINGTON -- T.J. Donovan's stump speech Wednesday night on the third floor of the Bennington Fire House included standby phrases of yore such as "we must not be penny-wise and pound-foolish" yet most of his measured sentences featured today's hot new buzzwords in communication: "creative" and "innovative" and "collaborative" ... "engagement."

"After 15 years we need a change. We need new ideas. We need new engagement in the attorney general's office," Donovan said. And that's as close as the 38-year-old Burlington native and married father of two came to attacking the state's chief law enforcement officer for the last 15 years, Bill Sorrell. Donovan and Sorrell are campaigning for the Democratic nod in Vermont's August 28 primary.

Donovan spent most of the next 58 minutes telling 16 voters, campaign staffers, journalists and a member of the senate appropriations committee how he plans to engage and unite crime fighters, social service experts and criminal court systems in Vermont's 14 counties that administer justice 14 ways.

When Donovan didn't command the microphone, Dick Sears did.

Dick Sears is up for election, too. The 69-year-old has been Bennington's senator in Montpelier since 1992. He threw his name behind Donovan because he agrees with the Chittenden County State Attorney General's vision of public safety through teamwork, innovation and plain old common sense. It probably doesn't hurt that Donovan keeps coming back to what Sears calls "the forgotten kingdom" of Vermont, Bennington, land where the four winds blow. Donovan was here Saturday, too.

Earlier Wednesday, one of his canvassers by the name of Natalie Silver stopped through Fiddlehead at Four Corners and told the art gallery manager that Donovan has come to nosh and schmooze and talk about crime with Benningtonians 8 or 9 other times.

That means a lot to Dick Sears.

"We do feel left out a lot," he said.

Vermont's $140 million corrections budget needs reform yesterday, Donovan said. High on his reformation priority list is the "War on Recidivism" in relation to criminal courts, non-violent drug crimes and 43 to 52 percent back-to-jail rates attached to it. He touted his "Rapid Intervention Program" in Chittenden County as the model for Vermont's future. Rapid Intervention gives offenders, especially young offenders, a chance to ask for help instead of facing harsh consequences that could disqualify them from federal student loans and housing and all but quashes their job prospects.

"We assess their needs before they go to court. If they complete the program we don't file a charge," Donovan said. "We have an 80 percent compliance rate." Multiply 80 percent by the $52,000 it costs to house a Vermont inmate, Donovan said, and you see why "Gov. Shumlin wants our program in every court in the state" as a way to save money that can be reinvested into housing, education and jobs for those who try to take advantage of a new lease on life. "But the attorney general must implement that. It's a level playing field for all Vermonters."

The elephant in the room of the Rapid Intervention Program debate is funding. Donovan said it costs $150 a day to service a Vermont inmate. The daily for a non-violent offender in drug counseling is $95.

Donovan and Sears outlined plans to fight sex abuse and elderly abuse -- Bennington, per capita, has the 7th-highest percentage of seniors in Vermont. They touched on the "Right of Expungement" which erases minor convictions of those in their 40s and 50s who acted like a 19-year-old when they were 19. Sears said a crestfallen grandfather called him because he could not accompany his grandson on a school field trip on account he smoked a joint 25 years ago. Now that grandfather can clear his record of those inconsequential actions back when Debbie Gibson was America's sweetheart.

The AG hopeful talked campaign finance and took a minor swipe at Sorrell for not taking a strong stance against political Super-PACs. As Vermont's top cop he would mandate transparency and make the political action committee donors "disclose where the money is coming from so voters know who is trying to influence policy."

Donovan and Sears also talked Taser reform, and then circling back around Donovan said he does not support marijuana legalization -- but instead decriminalization of small amounts because of the "collateral consequences."

A reporter asked Donovan about gun control in the wake of Gabby Giffords and Trayvon Martin and the Aurora "Dark Knight" massacre and last week's Sikh temple rampage in Milwaukee. Donovan's answer did not record in the video below, but the hunter said aforementioned tragedies are more a result of mental health issues and need to be addressed as such.

You can catch his answer to the question of gun control when CAT-TV airs the stump.  For more on Donovan click HERE and for more on Sears click HERE.