BARRE — Ed Stanak of Barre isn’t seeking office as a legislator this time, but several of his ideas for attorney general seek reforms that advocate changes in public policy.
A retired district coordinator for Act 250 and former Vermont State Employees’ Association president, Stanak is running for attorney general on behalf of the Progressive Party.
“The core of why I’m doing this is I sincerely believe that large corporations are having this corrupting effect on democracy here in Vermont,” said Stanak, 62.
“We’re reaching this tipping point with all of this stuff where soon it’s going to be most difficult if not impossible to reverse these things,” he said, “so that’s why I felt an ethical compulsion to step up to the plate and get involved.”
Stanak said he specifically waited for the outcome of the Democratic primary before beginning his campaign. He said he planned to drop out of the race if TJ Donovan won.
Among the planks in his platform, he would seek to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, advocate for the legalization of marijuana to the extent his office could, and seek to end the protection of “corporate personhood.” He said the latter was not debated in the Citizens United case, which helped allow super PACs to spend unlimited amounts to influence elections provided they don’t coordinate with a candidate.
At times, those issues clash with arguments that incumbent Attorney General Bill Sorrell has pursued in the courts and espoused in recent months.
Sorrell has suggested the state can’t run counter to Citizens United at least in one area. Stanak, however, wants the state to confront the Supreme Court.
Stanak said the concept of “corporate personhood” improperly arose from a headnote in a Supreme Court case in the 1880s that justices later solidified in a subsequent case, both involving railroad corporations.
Since then, corporations have benefited from a misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment, which grants the equal protection and due process of persons, Stanak said. He said he would strongly recommend that the state Legislature amend state law to indicate corporations don’t have the same privileges and rights as Vermonters in terms of political free speech.
Stanak said he doubts a constitutional amendment will pass. Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., has proposed a bill to amend the Constitution, which eventually would require three-fourths of state legislatures or the same amount of state conventions ratify the amendment.
As far as the state’s chief law enforcement officer in the state goes, Stanak says the decriminalization of marijuana is misguided.
“There’s a lot of buzz about decriminalization,” he said. “I think that’s a half-assed approach. It really doesn’t accomplish anything.”
He said the war on drugs in regards to marijuana is a dismal failure of financial resources and unnecessarily criminalizes people. Stanak said the state also could generate revenue from cannabis in a way that imitates state-controlled liquor stores and benefit agriculture in terms of hemp.
He said if he were elected he wouldn’t have the attorney general’s office take a passive role, where staff just provide feedback for legislative committees about the legality of an issue. Instead, he and his staffers would engage in active roles.
Sorrell has suggested he supports the decriminalization of small-time cannabis possession, but also said in the past he would be reluctant to push the issue as attorney general because it would still violate federal law.
While Sorrell, like Stanak, seeks to shut down Vermont Yankee, Stanak says the attorney general is pursuing a “losing proposition” in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City that could create a dangerous precedent for other states.
Sorrell’s office is defending Legislature actions from 2005 and 2006, where legislators gave themselves veto power over Vermont Yankee’s continued operation.
The operating certificate was slated to expire earlier this year.
The owner of the nuclear plant, Entergy, sued the state in 2011. A federal judge in Brattleboro, J. Garvan Murtha, ruled against the state in January, saying Vermont can’t regulate safety, which is a federal issue governed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Stanak said he would pursue another strategy that relies on Agency of Natural Resources regulatory issues in which the state does have jurisdiction.
Stanak said ANR could deny the renewal of the plant’s water discharge permits, possibly over unmet standards. The state’s attorney general would then defend the actions.
In 1976, he commenced a four-year clerkship under the Vermont Supreme Court “reading law” program, which he completed. But he never obtained a law degree or took the bar exam.
He had planned to take the Vermont Bar Exam, he said, but opted to take a state job when his wife was seven months pregnant with their twin daughters and they had no medical insurance.
The state constitution does not require the attorney general to be a lawyer.
“It actually makes sense when you study the history of Vermont because the attorney general office is not in the constitution,” Stanak said. “The role of attorney general was a creation in the 1790s by the Legislature. And what was going on in that whole era … was this skepticism of both lawyers and courts. That’s really deeply embedded in the political cultural fabric of Vermont.”
Stanak ran for state senate for Washington County in 1984 and a state representative seat in 2000 for a district that covered about two-thirds of Barre City and the town of Berlin.
He’s served as the Barre City school board chairman and also worked jobs ranging from an English teacher to a paralegal. He has 31 years of experience as a district coordinator for Act 250.
Stanak has lived out-of-state but moved to Marshfield in 1973. He has been a resident of Barre City since 1984. Stanak has been married for 33 years to artist Joelen Mulvaney.
While his platform does include many issues legislators would need to bring forth, he said someone has to propose them in the first place.
“If nobody makes the fight, nobody raises these issues, nothing will change,” Stanak said. “I suppose that one could say the Legislature will do all this stuff, and I realize I am not running for the Legislature.”
He added, “I more than anybody — when I stepped up to the plate to do this — have read and re-read Title 3 Chapter 7 because that’s where it says ‘here’s what the attorney general’s duties and powers are’,” he said. “But I also think there is room in there to expand as an advocate.”
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