Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan won't get a free ride after all.
St. Johnsbury lawyer and former Vermont Republican Party vice chair Deborah Bucknam said Friday she plans to challenge the South Burlington Democrat in his quest to become Vermont's next attorney general. Incumbent Bill Sorrell, a Democrat, is retiring after nearly two decades on the job.
"In the last few years, I have become more and more concerned about what's been happening both in the courts and in the state agencies," she said. "I've represented people who I just think are not getting a fair shake."
Though she has not previously sought state office, Bucknam has been active in GOP politics for years. The former Caledonia County Republican Party chair said that her fellow Republicans had urged her to run in order to fill out the party's statewide ballot — but maintains she's no placeholder.
"I would not do this, believe me, if I didn't think I had a shot," she said. "I'm 69 years old. I've been married for 50 years this year. I could do a lot of other things. But, you know, I love this state, and I've seen so many good people dealing with tough problems over the years."
"I welcome her to the race," Donovan said Friday. "She was kind enough and gracious enough to give me a call yesterday. We had a good chat. We talked about going around, having some debates and debating the issues that matter to Vermonters."
The 42-year-old state's attorney said he visited Bucknam in St. Johnsbury last month after hearing she was considering running and found that they agreed on many issues.
"I really like her," he said.
Bucknam also came away impressed.
"I think he's a good man," she said. "But my experience is greater than his is — probably because I'm a lot older than he is."
The Republican said she would run the AG's office much differently than Sorrell has.
"I think Bill has focused too much on national issues, joining some of these cases with other attorneys general," she said. "There's plenty to do in Vermont. There are plenty of problems that are affecting Vermonters, and that's what I want to focus on."
Bucknam said she hoped to "provide leadership for the opioid epidemic," calling state government's response "very disjointed and really quite weak." She said she also hoped to establish a "watchdog division" in the AG's office to allow Vermonters to "call in if they are having issues concerning government agencies."
Only Washington Democrat H. Brooke Paige has filed petition papers to run for attorney general, though Donovan registered as a candidate through the secretary of state's campaign finance system last July. Paige ran for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2012 and for governor and AG as a Democrat in 2014. This year, he is again seeking those two offices.
Statewide candidates have until May 26 to submit 500 petitions to get on the primary-election ballot.
Corrected May 14, 2016, at 11:14 a.m. to note H. Brooke Paige's candidacy.