Attorney general candidates respond to questions

Two county prosecutors, Democrat Susan Happ and Republican Brad Schimel, are running for Wisconsin attorney general, hoping to succeed retiring Republican J.B. Van Hollen. The Associated Press asked them to answer the same 10 questions in 130 words or less. Their responses follow.

Question: What’s the biggest challenge facing the state Department of Justice and how would you deal with it?

Happ: Heroin and opiates. Rural and urban Wisconsin have been paralyzed by this epidemic. I will use DOJ resources to support enforcement, education, prevention, and treatment programs to combat this epidemic. See more in Question 7. Crimes against children. The DOJ is uniquely situated to investigate and prosecute predators, especially those using the Internet in their crime; to provide prevention programming and support victims through its Office of Crime Victim Services; and to use statutory tools to ensure predators don’t reoffend. My first priority will be to streamline the processing of cyber tips to ensure prompt investigation and prosecution. Domestic violence. We must aggressively target domestic violence and provide more supportive services to law enforcement and local DAs. The recent NFL problems highlight the violence I see every day.

Schimel: The biggest challenge facing the state Department of Justice is sensibly allocating limited resources to effectively fight back against the biggest threats to public safety in Wisconsin. DOJ can leverage existing resources and be smarter about our efforts, but where tougher laws or new resources are necessary, I will be there, leading to put public safety ahead of politics. My focus on public safety had earned me the endorsement of a bipartisan group of 89 sheriffs and district attorneys from across the state who know I will not learn while I earn and can hit the ground running on day one.

Question: Should Wisconsin legalize marijuana? Why or why not?

Happ: The legislature determines what laws should be enacted. As a law enforcement official, my duty is to enforce and defend the laws of our state. The outright legalization of marijuana is complex, including a state’s relationship with the federal government and federal law. If the legislature legalizes marijuana, I would look to those states where the use and sale of marijuana is legal to determine how best to deal with those complexities. There is reason to consider the legalization of medical use marijuana in a supervised setting. When my father was dying of cancer and the morphine could not relieve his excruciating pain, I would have given anything to help him. Medical marijuana, if carefully regulated, could provide pain relief to people like my father, who have documented illnesses.

Schimel: The state of Wisconsin should not legalize recreational use of marijuana. The marijuana being sold on the streets today is more potent than ever and its impairing effects are unpredictable and long lasting. Marijuana remains a `gateway drug’ and according to the CDC, one in six who use marijuana will become addicted.

Question: Would you defend the state’s voter photo ID requirements? Why or why not?

Happ: Voting is a fundamental right that is key to defining our democracy. A requirement to show a photo ID for voting addresses only the potential of voter impersonation — where an individual votes purporting to be someone else. Voter impersonation is almost non-existent. As District Attorney, I have prosecuted cases of voter fraud and they have never involved voter impersonation. Simply stated, voter ID laws do not prevent voter fraud. They simply place obstacles in the way of those without reason or the means to have a particular photo ID. These laws are an attempt to suppress people’s constitutional right to vote. Accordingly, I do not support any form of required photo ID for voting and would not defend the law I believe to be unconstitutional.

Schimel: It is the Attorney General’s responsibility and constitutional duty to defend and enforce every law the legislature passes and the governor signs, regardless of personal opinion.

Question: Should Wisconsin criminalize first-offense drunken driving? If not, what else can be done to curb drunken driving in the state?

Happ: Drunk driving is both a law enforcement and cultural issue in Wisconsin. In determining penalties for drunk driving, we must focus on what strategies best work to reduce incidents of drunk driving. We must use evidence-based analyses to make that determination. I believe a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach to minimizing drunk driving must be supported. As Attorney General, I would utilize DOJ resources to implement state-wide best strategies that are used in Wisconsin localities. These strategies would combine strong enforcement, perhaps with enhanced penalties, increased mandatory minimums for repeat offenders along with education, prevention, and treatment.

Schimel: Wisconsin should make first offense OWI a crime if it can be demonstrated that doing so would have a positive impact on public safety. The Legislature, prior to passing such a law, ought to conduct the proper research to determine if making a first offense OWI a crime to be effective in reducing OWI-related crashes. I have supported efforts to make all fourth offense OWI’s felonies. Under current law, if a person can go five years since their third offense, their fourth offense is only a misdemeanor, a loophole we should abolish. I also supported increased maximum and minimum penalties for fifth through 10th offense OWI’s. We should also increase the use of Alcohol Treatment Court, which creates an intensive treatment program for repeat intoxicated drivers and reduces recidivism.

Question: What would you do to speed up processing evidence waiting for testing at the state crime labs and the state hygiene lab?

Happ: The crime labs are in DOJ’s Division of Law Enforcement Services. Evidence tested falls into two categories: that essential to ongoing cases and that added to databases (e.g., DNA samples and fingerprints). Increasing efficiency at our labs requires staff, equipment, space and financial support. Keeping qualified staff necessary to analyze evidence and testify in court is critical. Equipment for testing must be state-of-the-art. New equipment can expedite testing and provide more trustworthy results. Finding space for staff and equipment is challenging, too. Outside contractors have been used for analyzing evidence for databases. This practice is costly and should be used only for the elimination of backlogs. The hygiene lab is not housed in DOJ, but I would work with law enforcement to encourage adequate funding of the hygiene lab.

Schimel: In March, I announced my plan to speed up processing evidence waiting at the state hygiene lab, which involves transferring the forensic responsibilities of the UW Hygiene Lab to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory, which is better equipped to handle forensic analysis for law enforcement. My plan also called for new legislation that would increase the penalties for refusing to submit to a chemical test following drunk or drugged driving, so that the penalty for refusing is equal to or greater than what a driver who cooperates with police might have faced. Finally, by allowing forensic testing to be done on blood solids, instead of whole blood, test results can be admitted as easily as forensic tests.

Question: How would you approach environmental enforcement?

Happ: Water may be Wisconsin’s most valuable resource. Tragically, virtually all of our state’s lakes and rivers and streams have been compromised by pollutants such as mercury. As well, the quality of our air in certain areas has increased the rate of diseases such as asthma. We must do everything that we can to ensure that our natural resources are preserved for generations to come. As Attorney General, I would make sure that the Environmental Protection Unit works closely with the DNR to identify and aggressively prosecute any organization that puts the quality of our air and drinking water at risk.

Schimel: It is the Attorney General’s responsibility and constitutional duty to defend and enforce the law the way it is written by the legislature, regardless of personal opinion. Wisconsin should enforce environmental regulation vigorously, but within the authority granted to the regulatory agencies by the legislature.

Question: How would you address the state’s heroin problem?

Happ: As District Attorney, I have aggressively prosecuted drug dealers who put the lives of others at risk. However, prosecution alone will not stop this epidemic. We must combine enforcement with education, prevention, and treatment. Resources in DOJ, through its Divisions of Criminal Investigation, Law Enforcement Services, and Legal Services, as well as its Office of Crime Victim Services, can be used to create a multi-faceted effort to combat this epidemic. As a founding member of the Jefferson County Heroin Task Force, I work with law enforcement, county officials, educators and community leaders to inform citizens about the dangers and availability of such drugs — both heroin and prescription opiates. I would take that education initiative statewide to ensure that every county is able to bring this information to its citizens.

Schimel: Addressing the state’s heroin problem will require a multi-faceted approach, which I addressed in my STOP heroin plan, announced in June. We will not be able to solve this problem through incarceration alone. The DOJ should ensure law enforcement and prosecutors are provided with the training and resources they need to vigorously go after drug dealers, especially those whose actions are causing death. The Attorney General should also encourage, support, and advocate for funding for drug treatment courts. Ultimately, our greatest chance for change is through prevention. The Attorney General should continue to expand and grow the educational efforts started by JB Van Hollen and work collaboratively with the medical community, educators, law enforcement, and parents to make sure our young people know prescription narcotics are highly addictive and deadly.

Question: Both sides in this race have attacked the other as being far softer on crime than they portray themselves to the voters. How fair is it to dig through each other’s courtroom records looking for cases that fit that line of attack?

Happ: My opponent and I are front-line prosecutors — District Attorneys in neighboring counties. This race isn’t about the individual cases we’ve tried. It’s about the kind of Attorney General Wisconsin citizens deserve. I am a tough, fair, and effective prosecutor who works with law enforcement to make Jefferson County safer. Much of the Attorney General’s caseload is civil in nature. I spent a decade in private practice handling civil, juvenile, and criminal cases and have a broader background than my opponent. Not in lockstep with any political agenda, I work with colleagues of both parties. My party didn’t hand-pick me; I won a tough three-way primary. My opponent advocates restricting people’s right to vote, marry, and make their own health care decisions. I want to protect those rights.”

Schimel: Wisconsin voters should be able to evaluate both candidates based on their record. I am confident, as Wisconsin voters review both candidates and where they stand on the major issues, they will come to the same conclusion as the 89 elected Republican and Democrat sheriffs and district attorneys, as well as the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, Wisconsin Troopers Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Milwaukee Police Association, that I am the best choice to be Wisconsin’s next top cop.

Question: How would you maintain and improve relationships with local law enforcement across the state?

Happ: The DOJ Division of Law Enforcement Services provides the ideal platform to foster a strong working relationship with local law enforcement. Advisory committees, comprised of local law enforcement representatives, can provide first had counsel in the areas of law enforcement training and standards, use of DOJ resources for local law enforcement, and applications for and distribution of various grant resources. Additionally, the regional offices of the Division of Criminal Investigation provide day-to-day collaboration on investigations with local agencies. In short, I want to partner with local law enforcement and use DOJ resources to increase the efficiency and efficacy of DOJ and its local partners.

Schimel: I will maintain and improve relationships with local law enforcement across the state the same way I have for the last 25 years as a frontline prosecutor. By working collaboratively, listening to others, having an open door policy, keeping my promises, and stepping up to lead on the biggest public safety challenges facing the state. My demonstrated leadership on tough challenges is why I was law enforcement’s choice when I ran for Waukesha County District Attorney and it’s why I am law enforcement’s choice for Attorney General now.

Question: What would be your top priority as attorney general?

Happ: Designating a singular priority as the “top priority” would be to ignore all but one of the many and varied obligations of the job of Attorney General. These obligations include overseeing a statewide law enforcement agency, a cadre of lawyers representing the state in both civil and criminal matters, an office providing services for victims of crime, and services to law enforcement throughout the state. Additionally, in an age of increasing challenges and diminishing resources, the Attorney General is charged with the prioritization of available resources. For every “push” there is a “pull” in the other direction. An effective Attorney General must make many of these concerns a “top priority,” but essential to all of them is the need to be hard-working, honest, and forthright in pursuing justice for all.

Schimel: Parents should not bury their children. Heroin deaths can be prevented and Wisconsin needs strong leadership and innovation if we are going to stop this senseless destruction of lives. My top priority as Attorney General will be tackling Wisconsin’s heroin and prescription opiate problem.