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Date : July 16, 2024
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In the race for Vermont’s attorney general, only one candidate is an attorney

In the race for Vermont’s attorney general, only one candidate is an attorney

Charity Clark Mike Tagliavia
Charity Clark, at left, and Mike Tagliavia are facing off in the race to be Vermont’s next attorney general. Photos by Glenn Russell/VTDigger and courtesy Vermont Republican Party

In the election for Vermont’s next attorney general, voters will choose between Democrat Charity Clark, who most recently held the No. 2 position in the Attorney General’s Office, and Republican Mike Tagliavia, a first-time political candidate who is not an attorney and says his outsider status makes him the better choice.

Clark has emphasized her resume in her pitch to voters throughout a hard-fought primary campaign and on the general election campaign trail. She has eight years of experience in the Attorney General’s Office, most recently serving as chief of staff to then-Attorney General TJ Donovan from 2018 to 2022. Previously, Clark worked for nine years in private practice in Burlington, then New York City. Shortly after Donovan resigned, Clark stepped down in May to launch her campaign. 

In August, Clark beat out her Democratic primary opponent Rory Thibault, who serves as Washington County State’s Attorney, by a 30-point margin. Should she prevail on Tuesday, she wouldl be Vermont’s first elected female attorney general.

In an interview with VTDigger on Friday, Clark, 47, of Williston, said that “voters have a very clear choice” on Tuesday.

“I’ll let my opponent speak for himself, but for me, I have been an attorney in Vermont since 2005. Before that, I worked in the governor’s office for more than four years. I went to a very good law school. I worked at very well-regarded law firms,” Clark said. “I have just a lot of relevant experience and think I’m a very strong candidate with deep legal experience and leadership experience to bring to the office.”

Tagliavia, 59, of Corinth, was nominated to the race by the Vermont Republican Party to replace perennial candidate H. Brooke Paige, who rescinded all but one of his four statewide primary victories. Tagliavia, now retired, is a former business owner whose resume looks far different than Clark’s — and he believes that’s a good thing.

“I’m proud to say that I’m not a career politician. I’m just a man trying to do good things for Vermonters,” he said in his opening remarks at a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters in September. “I’m not an attorney. I believe that gives me an advantage. I can bring a new perspective to the table.”

Clark told VTDigger that her policy platform is informed by her eight years of experience within the Attorney General’s Office, and her knowledge of “the power of the office and what it can do,” particularly its work crafting legislation alongside the Legislature. Clark has staked out positions on criminal justice reform, environmental protections, consumer protections, immigration reform, domestic violence prevention and more.

But her top priority, if she is sworn in come January, is crafting safe harbor protections in Vermont for patients seeking abortions and the doctors who perform them in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

When the court’s conservative majority issued its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization opinion, striking down the federal right to an abortion, Clark said “the Supreme Court of the United States told me, I am less human than men.”

“That’s what I heard when the Dobbs decision came down, that I would not have a right to control my own body,” she said. “And I’m going to restate that. It’s not just about me. The concept that women and girls and others who can become pregnant don’t have control over their own bodies, don’t have personal freedom over their own bodies, when freedom is our whole brand in America — it’s incredibly upsetting.”

Tagliavia, on the other hand, said at September’s debate that his “legislative priorities are public safety, public safety, public safety.”

In an interview with VTDigger on Friday, Tagliavia said he strongly opposes recent calls to end qualified immunity for police officers, which protects public servants from facing litigation for violating citizens’ civil rights while on the job, and wants to see greater funding for police forces across the state. His top priority would be “figuring out how to get into the budget more law enforcement on the streets, whether they’d be walking foot patrols in Burlington, or actually doing (Vermont State Police) patrols out in rural towns like mine.”

“There are a lot of people I’ve spoken to who are really concerned,” he said. “They don’t feel as safe as they used to in Vermont. This is a new phenomenon.”

Tagliavia said he believes residents of and visitors to Vermont have “noticed a change” in the state, and he wants to shepherd the state back to its “traditional” and “old-school, rural Vermont” ways.

Asked to define the latter term, Tagliavia said he doesn’t believe Vermonters “want to see (the state) turn into a California or New York.”

“You know, Vermont typically is known for its maple syrup, for its hiking, for its kayaking, for its cross-country skiing, for its downhill skiing, snowmobiling, stuff like that,” he said. “Vermont has its own character … and I think it needs to maintain that character, and most of the voters I come across want to see it maintain that character.”

Clark, at least electorally, is looking to break with tradition. 

“The truth is that I’m very motivated by the idea that it’s 2022 and Vermont has never elected a woman attorney general,” she said. “To think that (Vermont’s first female governor) Madeleine Kunin is now in her early 80s, and I am a grown woman with a child of my own and we still haven’t seen an (elected) attorney general who is a woman, in a state where 50% of the graduates of law school are women — it’s incredibly motivating.”

Read the story on VTDigger here: In the race for Vermont’s attorney general, only one candidate is an attorney.

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