State Rep. Jon Richards touts his wide-ranging experience as a state legislator in his bid to become Wisconsin’s next attorney general.
“I’m the only one in this race — Democrat or Republican — with a record on the environment, on health care, on public education, on open government, on civil rights and on women’s rights,” Richards told fellow Democrats at a gathering last month.
Richards, 50, is running against two Democratic prosecutors in his race to become Wisconsin’s top lawyer. Richards faces Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary.
The winner will face Republican challenger Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel and Libertarian Thomas A. Nelson of Madison on Nov. 4 for the four-year term. The current attorney general, Republican J.B. Van Hollen, is not seeking re-election.
Richards said he is proud of his 100 percent lifetime voting record from the AFL-CIO during his 15 years as a state lawmaker. He said he would “fight every day for the rights of working people and the right to collectively bargain.”
Richards joined other Democrats in 2011 in holding a marathon public hearing aimed at defeating Gov. Scott Walker’s bill to sharply curtail collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Several challenges to the law, Act 10, have been filed, and Van Hollen has represented the state in fighting them.
But Richards said he considers Act 10 to be unconstitutional and, “I would not defend that law.”
Richards also said he would be “an attorney for the people” who would “do the whole job of protecting our families.” In addition to targeting violent crime, the Milwaukee Democrat said he would go after “white-collar criminals who cause middle-class families to lose their homes and seniors to lose their life savings.”
Richards said he also would fight “with every tool in my arsenal” any law that makes it harder for Wisconsinites to vote. He said he would not defend the state law that requires a photo ID to vote — a requirement struck down by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in April. Van Hollen has appealed.
Adelman found that the law violated the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act because it would unfairly burden an estimated 300,000 Latino and black voters who are less likely to have the required identification.
“I think that was a powerful decision — really well done,” Richards said in an interview. “I think it helps everyone to realize that we’re talking about roughly 10 percent of the voting population impacted by this.”
Richards said he also would:
• Restore the public intervenor position to represent the public in environmental lawsuits.
• Use the power of the attorney general’s office to defend a woman’s right to an abortion.
• Refuse to defend Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage, currently being challenged in federal court.
• Strictly enforce gun laws.
Richards describes himself as the son of a Planned Parenthood nurse and an “old-school chamber of commerce Republican.” He said he learned how to engage in civil political discourse around the family dinner table in Waukesha.
In the last legislative session, Richards worked with Republicans as a co-sponsor on bills providing additional protections for domestic violence victims and improved treatment to fight the “scourge” of heroin addiction. Richards also authored a bill requiring criminal background checks at gun shows, but the measure failed to advance.
Richards said he would advocate on behalf of the public for open government. He criticized Van Hollen for siding with a lawmaker seeking to evade the state open-records law by claiming legislative immunity and for failing to file any lawsuits to enforce open-meetings or open-records law violations.
On the hot-button topic of drunken driving, Richards said he favors harsher penalties for first-offense drunken driving. Wisconsin is the only state that punishes first-time drunk drivers with a ticket if no one is injured.
Ozanne also has said he would push for enhanced penalties for first offenders. Schimel and Happ have both said they oppose criminalizing first offenses. All four candidates have said they favor boosting treatment for drunk drivers.
“Remember, most people killed by a drunk driver are killed by someone who has never been cited for drunk driving before,” Richards said. “And so, we have to be very tough on first-offense drunk drivers.”