BENNINGTON -- Republican Jack McMullen says he is working to spread his message and define his candidacy while two Democrats, including the long-term incumbent, square off in a primary this month.
McMullen, a former candidate for the U.S. Senate, will face either Attorney General William Sorrell or Chittenden County States Attorney TJ Donovan in the general election following the Aug. 28 primary. In the meantime, McMullen is keeping tabs on his potential opponents.
"The good news is they're making points about each other that I could probably make use of. The bad is that's where the attention is, especially in my town, Burlington," he said.
Both Democrats come from "legendary" political families. But McMullen, in an interview with the Banner, said Monday that his philosophy on the office would incorporate his "deep business background" as well as his legal training.
"I have my own philosophy," he said. "I would look at it the way a business person looks at it."
After the Democratic primary, McMullen said he plans to hold whomever wins accountable for the handling of a potential case against Burlington Telecom, the municipal telecom service in Burlington. McMullen said both should have pressed for a case against city officials for using taxpayer money to fund the enterprise against the orders of the Public Service Board.
"Both of them took a pass at Burlington Telecom. Sorrell handed off to Donovan. Donovan studied it for three months and said nothing," McMullen said. "I think that's a burden TJ will have to live with in Burlington."
However, McMullen said Monday he could not immediately state a charge or law that would apply. "I don't have an answer for you right here," he said. "I feel that that would be an actionable item."
McMullen said he is prepared to face either Sorrell or Donovan. But, he would prefer to face Sorrell and his 15-year record in the office.
"Who would I rather face? I think I'd rather go up against the record of the incumbent than to face the person who hasn't held the office," McMullen said. "That isn't to say it would be an easier job. I would just rather have a record to run again."
Like the Democrats, McMullen said the state's growing drug problem, and the ancillary crime it causes, is a top issue in the race. The state must face the problem, he said. "It's got a great quality of life. It's a beautiful state, but, it does have a darker side -- drug-driven crime," he said.
McMullen said Sorrell has failed to make the problem a priority.
"Sorrell is more or less absent from the criminal seat. He may have identified it as the top problem, but he's not doing a lot about it. His focus is elsewhere, mainly civil or environmental. Occasionally, his office gets involved in criminal, but it's not a practice of theirs. It's a position you can take, but I think it's the wrong position if you've got a rising drug problem," he said.
McMullen said he would first distinguish between casual drug users and hardened criminals. Drug dealers and violent criminals would be dealt with differently than those that should be sent through treatment plans, he said.
McMullen said he would be more judicious when choosing which cases should be litigated. Cases pushed by Sorrell -- including a campaign finance law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court -- have cost the state large sums of money, he said.
"Litigation is costly, time-consuming and unpredictable as the attorney general has found out because he has appealed a number of these cases," McMullen said.
Sorrell should also drop an appeal against Entergy, owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. "This will cost us $ 4 million to $8 million to give you the same answer I could give you right now -- Hell no," he said.
"You're elected as an independent official, so you're not the governor's law officer. You're the state's law officer. If you think the case is a loser, you don't pursue it all the way to the Supreme Court at the cost of millions. You say to yourself, ‘This case is a loser. What can I do about it?'" McMullen added.
McMullen is spending time making sure voters know about his policies and his views of the office, not from his previous experience in Vermont politics.
He best known for his 1998 candidacy for the U.S. Senate. The late dairy farmer Fred Tuttle, believing McMullen was a "carpetbagger" from Massachusetts, entered the race to challenge McMullen in a GOP primary. During a debate, Tuttle asked McMullen several "local knowledge" questions, including the proper pronunciation of some Vermont towns, and the number of teats on a cow. McMullen was unable to answer.
Tuttle would go on to defeat McMullen in the primary, and promptly endorsed the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Patrick Leahy.
McMullen, who had just moved to Vermont prior to the 1998 race, said he launched his campaign after being recruited by the national Republican Party. He had hoped to run as a high-tech management consultant that could deliver jobs for Vermont and the country.
"If the story was, ‘Next generation jobs person against a career politician,' that would be helpful to me. If the story was, ‘Alien from Hell against our loyal senator,' that would be unhealthy to me," McMullen said. "Fred Tuttle was the perfect guy, wasn't he? I mean, seventh-generation Vermonter, high school dropout -- I'm a Harvard guy. I can see the humor in it. It was great. It was at my expense."
Despite his "iconic past," McMullen said his business and legal experience are right for the position. And he's been living in the Green Mountain state for a few more years, too.
"I thought, here's a state that I've been living in for 16 years. That should, to some degree, cure the Tuttle issue," McMullen said.