After months of deliberation, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan has decided he won't challenge Attorney General Bill Sorrell to a rematch this year.
"In the final analysis, I came to the conclusion it's not the right time for me personally and professionally," Donovan said Monday.
Instead, the two-term county prosecutor said, "It's likely that I'll run again for state's attorney."
In August 2012, Donovan (pictured at right) came within 714 votes of unseating Sorrell, who was first appointed to the post in 1997. The unusual and remarkably bitter primary pitted against one another two Burlington Democrats from interconnected families. Ever since, the 40-year-old Donovan has publicly and privately hinted that he might give the 66-year-old incumbent another run for his money.
But last week, Donovan said, he finally decided against it.
"I've been struggling with it for quite some time," he said. "Literally my mind would change every morning when I woke up. I'd feel one way one day and the next day I'd feel another way. And, you know, I had to make a decision, so I did."
Donovan said that in the two years since he first challenged Sorrell, many of the proposals for which he campaigned — from marijuana decriminalization to "Good Samaritan" treatment for those who witness and report a drug overdose — have been signed into law. And now that Gov. Peter Shumlin has pledged to reproduce statewide his rapid intervention program for those accused of drug-fueled crimes, Donovan said, "I want to work with him on that."
Challenging Sorrell again, the Chittenden County prosecutor said, would interfere with that work.
"What I don't want is to have politics be a distraction from an issue that I really care about and that I've been working on for the past seven years," he said. "I don't want it to be a personality conflict. My sense is that this would be driven by personality. And it's not about personality. It's about the issues."
Donovan said he spoke with Sorrell "a couple different times" during the past six months and formally notified the AG last week that he'd sit out 2014. Reached Monday on a trip to Denver, Sorrell said he was happy to hear the news.
"I'm pleased there's not going to be a repeat of 2012," Sorrell (pictured at left) said. "That was a long, hard fight and I had to raise a lot of money. It was a character-building experience, but there was nothing I could control whether we'd have a rematch or not. I'm pleased that we won't. I think he's got plenty of work to do in the Chittenden County S.A.'s office and I certainly have plenty to do as attorney general. We'll see how it plays out, but it'll be nice to focus on doing the job — and not so much the politics — for the rest of the year."
After narrowly defeating Donovan in the 2012 primary, Sorrell easily beat Republican businessman Jack McMullen and Progressive activist Ed Stanak in the November general election. No other challengers have yet emerged this year.
Sorrell, who announced in October that he'd run for a ninth full term, said Monday that he's already raised "over $20,000" for his campaign, mostly from out-of-state sources. He said he plans to hold a fundraiser in Florida this Friday while attending a meeting of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.
In 2012, DAGA donated $200,000 to a super PAC that spent heavily on advertisements backing his reelection effort. Sorrell said Monday he believes that at least a third of the direct contributions his campaign received that year also came from members of the group.
Sorrell confirmed that he met twice with Donovan in recent months and had "very cordial" conversations with his former foe.
"We actually didn't discuss politics very much, but I'm not going to go into the nitty-gritty of what we discussed," Sorrell said. "Those were private conversations."
Both men denied they'd struck a deal to avoid another match-up.
"No, whatever he's going to do, he's going to do," Donovan said when asked whether Sorrell had pledged to retire after serving one more term.
Said Sorrell, "I have never been and would never be so presumptuous as to say I'm going to be elected this time. My focus is on getting reelected this time and continuing any number of the cases we're working on. My future is far from all mapped out. I'm not really thinking beyond November."
As to whether he'll endorse Sorrell's reelection bid, Donovan said "I have no idea," adding, "I will say I think Bill's been a lot more active in the last couple of years, and that's a good thing for Vermont."
Long seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, Donovan said he doesn't know what his next political move will be.
"We'll see what the future holds," he said. "I really don't know, and that's okay. I go by what my uncle tells me: Fight the good fight, keep the faith and good things will happen. And just work hard."