Standing at a podium in the Statehouse's ornate Cedar Creek Room wearing a dark suit and blue tie, Attorney General Bill Sorrell looked ever the stately incumbent Wednesday afternoon. As four dozen smartly dressed attorney types looked on approvingly, the state's top law enforcement officer launched his eighth campaign for reelection.
Only this time, something was different.
"Have you ever had this kind of a kickoff before?" Burlington Free Press reporter Terri Hallenbeck asked Sorrell, her voice trailing off. "Or have we just not come before?"
'We' being members of the media, of course.
"I did have at least one or two others that were sparsely attended by the media," the AG responded with a laugh. "So, welcome to all of you."
Such is the state of affairs for a veritable dinosaur of Vermont's political apparatus, who all of a sudden finds himself with an ambitious young upstart nipping at his heals: Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan, who is challenging Sorrell in a Democratic primary.
If Donovan's strategy is to paint himself as the energetic new kid on the block ready to be "Doing More for Vermont," as his campaign signs read, Sorrell's is evidently to project the image of the sagacious elder statesman, with a firm grasp on the job and the experience to get it done.
Given an opportunity to compare his record with Donovan's, Sorrell didn't entirely take the bait. But he hammered home the message that his experience outmatches Donovan's.
"Well, he's done a very good job as the Chittenden County state's attorney, but I was the Chittenden County state's attorney two different times, appointed by two different governors," he said.
Translation: That was back before you were born, son!
"The attorney general's office, obviously — we have statewide criminal jurisdiction," Sorrell said, nodding to Donovan's experience as a county prosecutor. "That's a piece of what the attorney general does. But as [State Rep. Rebecca Ellis, who introduced Sorrell] suggested, whether it's environmental protection, civil rights protection, civil law enforcement, defending Vermont laws when they are attacked, not to mention being legal counsel for the Department of Corrections, the Department of Children and Families. You name it!"
Know how to do any of that stuff, T.J.?!
Sorrell continued: "The office impacts Vermonters in many, many, many different ways, and the Chittenden County state's attorney's job is an important position. As I said, I've held it twice. This is a much bigger job, and I have a record in this job that I'm proud of."
Sorrell spent plenty of time in his prepared remarks outlining that record: the gazillion-dollar tobacco lawsuit he signed Vermont on to, the restrictive auto emissions standards he defended in federal court, the millions of dollars his office has won Vermont consumers.
At each victory Sorrell outlined, his enthusiastic audience applauded fervently. (We're wondering how many were on lunch break from the AG's office next door.)
With Donovan seemingly basing his entire campaign on combating the scourge of opiate abuse, VTDigger's Taylor Dobbs asked a good, if basic, question of Sorrell: What's the number one problem facing Vermont?
After all, every campaign has to have a bogeyman.
The incumbent's answer?
Not whether folks have access to it up in the Northeast Kingdom, but whether it might be picking our pockets and going after our children.
"I think that issues involving the World Wide Web, the internet, social media, that all of the opportunities it offers us in commerce and communication and such, that's wonderful," the AG said. "But there's a downside to this. Thieves, scam artists, those cyber-stalkers, those who pray on people young and old are taking advantage of the web — of the internet — to go about their business."
We must educate the youngsters, crack down on cyber-bullying and lock up the creeps, he said.
"There are a lot of serious problems facing Vermont, but trying to stay abreast of new technology and to help Vermonters use it responsibly and effectively but don't be victimized by it," Sorrell said. "I think that's a huge challenge for us going forward."
So, the bogeyman battle is joined: opiates vs. the internet.