BURLINGTON — In an effort to win back a media spotlight that has focused almost exclusively on the Democratic primary, Republican candidate for attorney general Jack McMullen convened a news conference Wednesday afternoon to talk about his plan to address “drug-driven” crime.
Speaking outside a modest one-story home in a Burlington neighborhood hit by a spate of summer burglaries, McMullen outlined a three-point proposal that includes a sort of prisoner-exchange program with neighboring states.
If residents of New York or Massachusetts — two source states for cocaine, heroin and other opiates, according to law enforcement officials — are convicted of serious drug violations in Vermont, McMullen said, then their home states ought to be responsible for jailing them.
“The idea is if it’s your guy, you should pay for it,” he said.
The rest of McMullen’s plan is conceptually similar to the one pushed by Attorney General William Sorrell and challenger TJ Donovan in the Democratic primary: treatment for young addicts and harsh jail sentences for kingpins orchestrating the narcotics trade.
The approach, known as “justice reinvestment,” is a centerpiece of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s plan to reduce rates of recidivism and curb rising corrections budgets.
“I would support that effort and advance it, if I win this office,” McMullen said of justice reinvestment initiatives already under way in Montpelier.
Asked how he’d secure increased funding for more substance abuse treatment facilities, McMullen, a Burlington businessman who has twice run for U.S. Senate, said he’d lobby lawmakers.
“You have to go to the Legislature to make your case, obviously,” McMullen said.
At a victory speech Wednesday, Sorrell came out swinging at his Republican opponent.
“There are very real differences between myself and my Republican opponent,” he said. “For one, I’m admitted to the (Vermont) bar. … He’s wealthy, I’m not. He thinks we should drop the Vermont Yankee appeal.”
McMullen said that while it’s true he isn’t a member of the Vermont bar, and therefore can’t actually practice law in this state, he is a member of the bar in three other jurisdictions, including New York, and is “months away” from gaining admission in Vermont.
He said not only is he a lawyer but that he has taught law, at Harvard Law School, from which he also graduated.
McMullen said he is a wealthy man, but that if Sorrell means to suggest he’s “out of touch” with working Vermonters, he’s wrong.
“I started out in life probably poorer than Bill Sorrell,” McMullen said. “Calling it a lower-middle-class upbringing would be dignifying it, because my father was often sick.”
As for Vermont’s pending appeal of the federal overturn of a state law that authorized the Legislature to shut down Vermont Yankee, McMullen said he isn’t opposed to the statute in concept, but that “my opinion is not relevant in this.”
“My assessment is the chances of prevailing in this appeal are very low,” McMullen said. “My advice would be to save the $4 million to $8 million we’d spend (on outside counsel) only to lose.”
McMullen said he’d work with Shumlin to find out what concessions he wants from the plant’s owners, then go try to extract them.
“Let me go there and cut the best deal,” McMullen said.
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