A couple of high profile races — governor and U.S. senator — are putting Wisconsin in the national spotlight this election season. There’s another race that’s receiving less attention but certainly deserves notice too. That’s the contest for attorney general between the incumbent Brad Schimel and his Democratic challenger, Josh Kaul.
As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, the attorney general plays an essential role in protecting consumers and the environment and securing public safety and constitutional rights. Schimel’s tenure as AG has been a disaster because he has consistently put partisanship and self-promotion before the public interest.
Chief among the AG’s duties is criminal law enforcement, but Schimel’s mismanagement of evidence has left the public in danger. During his administration, the time prosecutors have had to wait for test results from the state crime lab has almost doubled. In one case, the failure to process evidence in a timely fashion let a repeat drunken driver remain on the roads. While free because of delayed test results, that drunk driver killed a motorist.
Schimel’s department tested only nine rape kits in his first two years in office, leaving thousands of rape kits untested. Tests could lead to the apprehension of rapists, but Schimel’s failure probably means that many rapists continue to go free. Only now that an election is looming has Schimel indicated that he will finally have the rape kits tested.
Brad Schimel has also failed consumers. He refused to join attorneys general from other states to stop fraud by for-profit colleges, such as Trump University. Many students were taken advantage of by these “colleges” and left with large debt. While other states obtained relief for their deceived students, Wisconsin students are not eligible to receive any help from the settlement because of Schimel’s inaction. He has also refused to join AGs from neighboring states to keep consumer protections in place for student loan borrowers.
His failure to protect consumers is matched by his failure to protect the environment. During his tenure, enforcement actions against polluters have declined precipitously and there has been a substantial drop in the amount of fines collected from polluters. In one notorious case, he let a major corporation guilty of significant air pollution off with no fine at all. It’s noteworthy that the corporation’s executives had made substantial contributions to Republicans. Schimel sued the federal government to stop the Clean Power Plan and even voted for a gag order to stop an employee from discussing climate change.
Schimel’s poor ethical record mirrors his poor performance otherwise. He defended a legislator who authored a bill to help a campaign donor reduce his child support payments. Schimel’s justification: “Why can’t a legislator press for legislation that benefits a person who has contributed to their campaign?” He has wasted over $80,000 of taxpayer money on self-promotional swag, including minting coins bearing his name and even custom-made fortune cookies. Recently, Schimel used his position to obtain a lavish trip, including first-class airfare and a stay at a luxury resort, paid for by a private organization classified as a hate group.
His opponent, Josh Kaul, presents a striking contrast. Hailing from the Lake Winnebago area, Kaul has had a distinguished legal career as a tough federal prosecutor putting murderers, gang members, and drug traffickers behind bars and as a defender of voting rights.
This will not be the first time Kaul and Schimel face off. When Schimel tried to limit voting rights, Kaul took him to court and won. That was a defeat for Brad Schimel and a victory for democracy and Josh Kaul. Hopefully, that portends what’s to come in November.
Spencer Black served for 26 years in the state Legislature. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Democratic leader. Since leaving the Legislature, Black has been vice president for conservation for the national Sierra Club and adjunct professor of planning at UW-Madison.
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