Democratic Candidates for Attorney General Make Their Case
Winner of the Aug. 12 primary will be on the November ballot
The daughter of two public school teachers, Susan Happ became the first Democrat to serve as Jefferson County district attorney since 1938 when she won her first election in this solidly Republican county in 2008. She ran unopposed in 2012 and credits her success in office with being able to work on criminal justice issues in a nonpartisan way.
She said she is a born fighter who isn’t daunted by a challenge. She weighed three pounds and one ounce when she was born prematurely and fought to survive. When she grew older, she followed in her dad’s footsteps and became a wrestler until she beat so many boys that she was making them cry and had to bow out to keep the peace. She also grew up hunting and fishing and now rides a Harley and owns a gun, although she said she hasn’t used it recently.
“I’ve never quite fit the mold,” Happ told the Shepherd. “I have never been afraid to be different.”
As DA, Happ has focused on Internet crimes against children, the growing heroin epidemic and working with the sheriff on budget-tightening measures that have resulted in taxpayer savings of a quarter of a million dollars.
She said that the Department of Justice under J.B. Van Hollen has done a good job of training local law enforcement on how to investigate Internet crimes against children, but that funding shortages have forced Jefferson County’s lone officer working on these crimes to address other issues.
“Now I have no one,” Happ said. “This is a real public safety issue.”
If she is elected attorney general, she said she would continue to focus on Internet crimes and heroin, as well as environmental and consumer protections.
“We have good laws on the books, we just need to enforce them,” Happ said.
Although the attorney general cannot write legislation, Happ said she would advocate for background checks for all gun purchases.
“If you have an attorney general who is on board and is talking to legislators about the fact that background checks can save lives, that can have influence,” Happ said. “If you’ve got the top cop behind you I would think that would carry some positive weight in the Legislature.”
She said she disagreed with Van Hollen’s decision to support the same sex marriage ban, new voter ID requirements and pending restrictions on abortion providers. All have been found to be unconstitutional in the federal courts and Van Hollen is appealing those decisions.
“As a constitutional officer, you have a sworn obligation to uphold the Constitution and the law,” Happ said. “I can’t pursue a course of action that I ethically know violates the Constitution.”
Happ said she is the strongest candidate in the race because Wisconsinites want their attorney general to have prosecutorial experience and she can appeal to swing and independent voters in addition to Democrats.
“I am going to fight for our values and our rights and not take them away,” Happ said.
To learn more about Susan Happ, go to susanhappforwisconsin.com.
A sixth-generation Wisconsinite, Ismael Ozanne is a former Department of Corrections administrator who currently serves as Dane County district attorney. In 2011, he argued that the state Legislature violated the open meetings law when it passed Act 10, the collective bargaining bill, without adequate public notice. The conservative court majority ultimately disagreed with Ozanne and sided with the Republican legislators on the matter.
Ozanne cites his prosecutorial and administrative record as assets in this race.
“I am the only candidate in this race that has any experience, Democratic or Republican, with running the day-to-day operations for a statewide agency, the Department of Corrections, which had 10,000 employees and a billion-dollar budget,” Ozanne said. “I am the only one with a proven track record of standing up for all of the citizens of the state of Wisconsin with the open meetings law violation in relation to Act 10, which our current attorney general should have addressed but chose not to. It was about trying to protect open access to government and making sure that those who write the laws are accountable to those laws.”
Ozanne said that public safety is his top priority and would encourage programs that are successful in Dane County, such as its focused deterrence program that works with violent offenders, to be used elsewhere.
“We need to not only be tough on crime but to be smart on crime,” Ozanne said. “If people commit serious offenses or violent crime they should go to prison. But if we can get to the root cause of what brings somebody to the system we should do so in a meaningful way, whether it’s mental health or addiction.”
Ozanne said he is concerned about the state’s racial disparities and would like to create a civil rights division in the DOJ.
“I think the people need a place that they can turn to if they feel their rights have been violated,” he said.
He said he disagreed with Van Hollen’s stance on voter ID, abortion restrictions and same-sex marriage.
“We should be trying to get more people, eligible voters, to the polls so that they can actually participate in our system and we can truly have a democracy,” Ozanne said. “I think the attorney general’s office needs to do more and not try to trump up an issue or a solution where there is no problem.”
Ozanne said he would like to heal the political divisions that have plagued the state so that we can tackle tough problems.
“I love this state and believe that we need to start moving forward again,” Ozanne said. “We need to start making sure that this is the state where Wisconsinites are Wisconsinites, where we don’t have any second-class citizens, where we have open government, where we look to give every child an opportunity to be the best that they can be. I think that my strong leadership can do that.”
To learn more about Ismael Ozanne, go to iozanne.com.
Jon Richards has represented the East Side of Milwaukee for 15 years while maintaining a law practice in the city. In the state Assembly, Richards authored a bill that would require background checks for all gun purchases; co-authored the Great Lakes Compact, which prohibits our water from being sent outside of our region; opposed Act 10, voting restrictions and the proposed iron mine in northern Wisconsin; and wrote a bill that requires private insurers to cover birth control.
“I’ve been in office for 15 years fighting for progressive change in Wisconsin,” Richards said. “I’ve had a long interest in making sure that we protect our environment, that we keep our families safe by requiring background checks and that we stand up for consumers and the civil rights of our citizens, like a woman’s right to choose and marriage equality.”
He said he would prioritize public safety as well as protect the civil liberties and civil rights of Wisconsinites.
“Stopping the appeal of the marriage equality lawsuit would certainly be a priority, as would protecting a woman’s right to choose,” Richards said.
Richards said that the Republican-led Legislature and the Department of Justice haven’t fully advocated for resources that could curb Milwaukee’s gun violence.
“I would work hard to bring front-line resources to Milwaukee with money, with ideas like the ShotSpotter program that’s worked very well,” Richards said. “That program got no support from the Department of Justice when we were trying to get that in the budget in the last session. I think that was a big mistake.”
Richards said he disagreed with Van Hollen’s focus on voter impersonation fraud.
“The Department of Justice needs to focus on making sure that everyone who is eligible to vote is able to vote,” Richards said.
He said he would improve the department’s prosecution of environmental violations and is keeping a close watch on the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron mine in northern Wisconsin.
“I voted against the mine every step of the way,” Richards said. “I will do everything I can as attorney general to either halt it or make sure that the company complies with every law to protect our environment.”
Richards said that his broad experience as a legislator makes him the best candidate for attorney general. He said that, like him, state attorneys general around the country—including those in Illinois, Iowa and Michigan—hadn’t been prosecutors prior to becoming AG. What’s key is the ability to work through the complex issues facing Wisconsin families, he said.
“My experience is working with judges, prosecutors and front-line law enforcement to get them the resources and the tools they need to keep us safe,” Richards said. “But equally important is my background as a leader fighting for progressive values and for working families in Wisconsin. That’s something I have much more experience with than any of my opponents in this race, Democrat or Republican.”
To learn more about Jon Richards, go to jonforwisconsin.com.