And Another One Bites the Dust

Well now. One day after Beth Pearce announces she will not seek re-election, along comes Attorney General TJ Donovan to say he’s stepping aside. Might not even finish his term, in fact. Already his top deputy, Charity Clark, has taken to Twitter to announce she’s considering a run to succeed him.

That’s four, count ’em, four, openings out of our six statewide offices, and six out of nine if you include Congressional seats.

Anything you’re not telling us, governor? Auditor Hoffer?

Besides the lieutenant governor vacancy in 2020, it’s been a long time since any Democrat could see a way to move up the ladder. Now, it’s not so much a ladder as a single step onto a boundless plateau. Who’s got next?

Besides Clark, I have no idea. I’d love to see Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George give it a shot, but she seems uninterested. She told VTDigger she will run for re-election instead because she’s more interested in criminal law than in the civil cases that make up the bulk of the AGO’s work. Otherwise, I’m sure there are boatloads of people contemplating a run for AG or Treasurer.

This is going to be one hell of an August primary.

Well, that’s a look at my political crystal ball, hopelessly opaque like a furiously shaken snowglobe. But there are still a few things to say about Mr. Donovan and the odd specifics of his departure.

This seems to be about two things: Finding a better-paying job, and giving Clark an advantage in the race for AG. He told VTDigger that he’s “in conversations” about other jobs. If he gets one before November, it seems clear, he’ll be out the door and presumably he’d want Clark to step in as acting AG. That would give her the cloak of incumbency, which is a Big Biden Deal when it comes to statewide elections.

But she’d have to pass muster with Gov. Phil Scott. The procedure for filling a vacancy in a statewide office is the same as for a legislative seat: The departee’s political party gets to nominate up to three potential replacements and the governor chooses one. He has the option to ignore all three names and appoint someone else, but Scott has never departed from tradition in these matters before.

(“Governor, Charity Clark on line one. She wants to know if your car needs washing.”)

I don’t begrudge a guy wanting a change after 16 years as AG and State’s Attorney. I definitely don’t begrudge a guy with two growing kids deciding to seek greener pastures. An attorney with his resume could make a hell of a lot more money in the private sector. Those college funds don’t grow themselves, you know.

But to do this out of nowhere and not even commit to serving out your term? It smells, just a little bit.

What smells even worse is that Donovan isn’t ruling out a run for governor this year. But only if Phil Scott bows out.

Nothing like a full public display of naked opportunism to make this political observer roll his eyes. It’s been obvious for years that Donovan was the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial candidate-in-waiting, and that he wouldn’t take it on until Scott was safely out of the way. This statement removes any remaining sliver of doubt about that. He’s out unless the governor is out as well, and then he’d be back in again.

Can’t be any clearer than that. If anyone does an update of “Profiles in Courage,” there won’t be a chapter about TJ Donovan.

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