If there was any doubt about whether Attorney General T.J. Donovan might run for governor in 2020, he has just eliminated it.
Not by making an announcement, but by making it all but impossible to get the Democratic nomination. The guy’s so radioactive right now, he ought to just lay low for at least two more years.
Because it turns out he played a major role in concealing the scandal at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. We know this thanks to Seven Days‘ Paul Heintz, who has done the near-impossible. He uncovered a major scandal in state government — and then, one week later, he has substantially advanced the story, at a time when every media outlet in Vermont is pursuing this thing. Or should be.
Today’s piece reveals that pretty much everyone in state government knew about widespread abuse at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility long before it became public, including officials who loudly expressed their horror and astonishment that there were problems at the prison.
Including, most notably for our purposes, T.J. Donovan, who has known about systematic problems at the prison for two and a half years.
“I couldn’t believe some of the things I saw there,” one former corrections officer told Donovan at a May 2017 meeting, according to prepared remarks she shared with Seven Days. “Female guards are treated horribly, and blatant sexual harassment and the use of sexual language by male guards are part of the culture there.”
… “He seemed like he was very eager to help us,” the former officer said of the attorney general. “Then we never heard from him again.”
Well, it’s not entirely fair to say that Donovan did nothing. What he did do, was negotiate a settlement of a gender-discrimination lawsuit filed by that former officer and a colleague. Quietly, and without any effort to force changes at the women’s prison.
But wait, there’s more! Donovan told Heintz he was proud of the settlement because it spared the plaintiffs a long and costly trial. Great, but what they actually wanted was meaningful reform at the prison, and Donovan did nothing to make that happen. His explanation?
“That’s my job,” he said. “My job was to settle the case.”
Christ on a bicycle.
Maybe that’s true in the narrowest possible definition of Donovan’s “job.” But what about fostering justice? What about protecting the afflicted? What about punishing wrongdoers? What about acting in the best interests of the people of Vermont?
I’d say that is all part of the “job.” Or it should be.
Go back a few years, and this guy was the Great Democratic Hope — the person who was going to make the AGO relevant again after the doldrums of the Sorrell years, and the person most likely to climb the ladder to the governorship or even the U.S. Congress.
Not any more. Donovan has become the Tin Man of Vermont politics — a soulless simulacrum. There’s no way he could run for governor next year. Hell, he ought to face serious questions if he runs for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. He probably won’t because he’s a scion of Democratic royalty. But he should.
And questions need to be asked about how Donovan has handled other potential scandals. Whose interest is he serving in the EB-5 case? Or lingering questions about the Brattleboro Retreat? Has he been focused on serving state government’s interests? Is there any room in his job description for serving the people who elected him?
If the women’s prison scandal is any indication, the answer has to be “No.” And that’s troubling.