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Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George beats challenger in Democratic primary

Chittenden County States Attorney Sarah George sits in a courtroom in 2019.
Glenn Russell
/
Associated Press File
Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George won the Democratic primary on Tuesday, beating Ted Kenney — a Williston attorney supported by several police unions. Kenney criticized George's approach as the county's top prosecutor, saying her efforts to reform the criminal justice system were hurting public safety.

Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George beat Ted Kenney 53% to 33% in Tuesday's Democratic primary. Kenney, an attorney from Williston, had been critical of some of George's progressive approaches to the office. But George won in every voting district in the county, including some of the more conservative communities.

"I know that many of those who encouraged me to run are disappointed," Kenney said in a Facebook post. "I would encourage each of you who work in public safety to work with the State's Attorney to secure public safety and reform."

In November's general election, George is very likely to win; she'll be the only major party candidate on the ballot.

Find full 2022 Vermont Primary Election results here.

Vermont Public's Liam Elder-Connors spoke to George about her win. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Liam Elder-Connors: You won the Democratic primary with 53% of the vote, you won in every town in the county. Do you view that win as a mandate to continue or even get more aggressive in implementing criminal justice reforms?

Sarah George: I certainly see it as a mandate to continue the work that I'm doing. I will continue to work on doing it the same sort of way, in the same rate that I always do it. I don't intend on being more aggressive just to be more aggressive, I make the policies that I do and I do the work in the way that I do based on the data that comes to me, the research that's done, and the policy ideas that I find from others around the state or around the country. So I'll continue to do it in the same way that I always have.

Well, in your tenure, so far, you've done things like ending cash bail, declining to charge many non-safety traffic violations. Are there other ideas that you're looking towards or exploring for a new term?

The biggest thing that we're working on right now in our office is a change and a new way of looking at our CHINS docket for the kids that we are taking out of parents’ custody. That is a place that I think has been long-overdue for reform.

Other than that, I have really been trying to figure out ways in which I can use this position to protect women around the country who might come to Vermont to seek abortions or other reproductive liberty, and making sure that they are in fact protected in any way that my office might be able to help with that or be involved in that.

Your opponent in the primary, Ted Kenney, was endorsed by several police unions, and there were a lot of reports of police officers on the ground encouraging people to vote for him and denigrating your work. What is your message to those police officers today?

I am very hopeful that the police officers that were doing that in our community, see these results as a message to them that that is unacceptable, that it is not going to work, and that we all have to come together and push forward on these mandates. And that they will know, at least now that they did everything that they could, that they tried to spread disinformation in the community, and that they pushed for a particular opponent publicly and in uniform, and that it didn't work. And that now that they've had that opportunity, and that the voters had an option, and they chose to continue on the path that I am on and to continue pushing the work that I'm doing, that they will recognize that as a demand on them as well.

Do you think it was appropriate for them to be so aggressive in their efforts to unseat you?

Absolutely not, I think it was incredibly inappropriate and unprofessional for them to be doing it while in uniform in the capacity that they were doing it. How they exercise their First Amendment rights when they are plain-clothed, and at dinner tables or parties, or social events, is 100% entirely up to them — they are entitled to that. But to be doing it in our community and while in uniform, while being paid by the constituents that they are sworn to protect, I felt was very inappropriate, unprofessional and dangerous, given some of the messages that were being pushed.

More from Vermont Public: A debate over criminal justice reform is on the primary ballot in Chittenden County

Are you looking to improve relationships with police departments?

It's always a priority for me. I do have really good relationships with a lot of law enforcement officers in Chittenden County, and frankly have heard from a lot since the endorsements came out that felt really awful about how that all played out, and felt like the union really wasn't doing a great job in representing their particular wants or needs.

I certainly don't want the community to think that just because the unions endorsement my opponent, it means that every law enforcement officer county doesn't have a good relationship with our office. Many, many do. And I look forward to continuing those relationships. But in terms of the union, I think it's up to them there. They know where my office is, they have my cell phone, they are working with us on thousands of cases every year. It is truly up to them whether or not they want to take this as a mandate to them to work better with our office, or if they plan to continue the divisive tactics that they're currently using.

And I, of course, hope for our communities' sake that they don't, and that they do collaborate with us more, and find ways that we can come to some common ground and push forward on these issues.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

Liam is a reporter based in Burlington and covers a variety of issues, including courts, law enforcement and housing.
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