Much speculation has surrounded Democratic Attorney General TJ Donovan this year. Will he run for governor in 2020, or won’t he?
Maybe the real question ought to be, Which primary would he contest?
Donovan has taken a couple more rightward steps in recent days. Last week, Gov. Phil Scott directed his officials to allow people inspecting state documents to take photographs or otherwise record images without incurring any fees. Afterward, Donovan doubled down on his position that fees should be charged to anyone getting copies of public records — whether the copies were made by state employees or not.
Congratulations, TJ. You’re now officially to the right of our Republican governor on a key transparency issue.
Donovan’s faulty argument remains the same: That requesters should pay for copies because of all the work required of state employees for responding to public records requests. Which doesn’t hold water. Donovan is trying to find a clever way around an inconvenient state supreme court ruling by charging fees for something unrelated to the actual burden of work.
Next, the Aita Gurung case once again reared its ugly head. Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George decided not to pursue criminal charges against Gurung in the savage murder of his wife, because she believed mental competency issues would make it very difficult to obtain a conviction. After some desk-pounding by Gov. Scott, Donovan took the unusual step of filing charges on his own, effectively overruling a decision made by George, a fellow Democrat.
Now, a psychiatrist who examined Gurung has determined that he is not competent to stand trial. And Donovan’s lawyers immediately challenged the report, indicating they are still determined to pursue a criminal case.
Two years ago, Gurung was found competent. What’s changed since then? Well, if you see it Donovan’s way, maybe the new psychiatrist got it wrong. If you don’t share his view, this might be an alarming sign that Gurung’s mental state is deteriorating since Donovan took on the case, which resulted in Gurung’s transfer from psychiatric custody to prison.
Now, I don’t know enough about the case to know whether George or Donovan has this right. What I do know is this: It’s very unusual for an AG to overrule a state’s attorney. And it’s politically a very bad look for Donovan to effectively side with the Republican governor and question the judgment of George, a fellow Democrat.
In both cases, Donovan may well be honestly adhering to his view of the law. But he holds an elective office. He ran as a Democrat. Like it or not, there is a political dimension to an attorney general’s decisions. And in these two instances, Donovan ain’t acting like a Democrat.