Peg Lautenschlager, Wisconsin’s first female attorney general and a strong progressive voice, died Saturday at age 62.
Bill Rippl, her husband of 29 years, said Lautenschlager died shortly after midnight while surrounded by her family at the couple’s home in Fond du Lac. She had been diagnosed with cancer.
State Assembly Democratic Leader Gordon Hintz lauded Lautenschlager for having “broken down barriers throughout her career, spanning over 30 years of public service.”
“She was a trailblazer for many women in Wisconsin politics, a loyal friend and true blue Democrat,” state Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling said in a statement.
A statement from Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairwoman Martha Laning hailed Lautenschlager as “one of Wisconsin’s most dedicated grassroots progressives, for whom no work was too small or too big in her fight for justice, fairness and opportunity for all Wisconsinites.”
Lautenschlager was elected state attorney general in Wisconsin in 2002 and served from 2003 to 2007.
As head of the state Department of Justice, Lautenschlager took on cases to protect Wisconsin’s waterways and natural resources, oversaw a task force on internet crimes against children and fought the spread of methamphetamine use.
She also publicly battled breast cancer during her tenure as attorney general.
Lautenschlager fought for the little guy, former Gov. Jim Doyle said, particularly in the realm of consumer protection.
“She was very committed to trying to do what was right for the people,” Doyle said.
Before that, Lautenschlager was the first female District Attorney in Winnebago County, serving from 1985 to 1988. She then served in the state Assembly from 1989 to 1993.
She was later appointed U.S. attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, serving from 1993 to 2001.
“When other prosecutors treated the rich and powerful with kid gloves, as U.S. Attorney, Peg’s white collar sentences were the toughest in the nation,” One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross said in a statement. Ross served as Lautenschlager’s communications director in her 2002 race for Attorney General and served in her office in 2005.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker described Lautenschlager as a “dedicated and passionate public servant.”
Current Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel said he didn’t know Lautenschlager well but recognized her dedication to public service.
“She hired many of the fine public servants who now work at DOJ on behalf of the people of Wisconsin and her dedication lives on through their daily work,” Schimel said.
Hintz said that he and Lautenschlager were longtime friends — she would remind everyone she knew him as a toddler. He said she was the same person both in public and in private.
“Peg was so down-to-earth and real, it could be easy for some to overlook how brilliant she was,” Hintz said.
Lautenschlager’s career was marred by a 2004 drunken driving conviction that became an issue in her 2006 re-election bid. She lost the Democratic primary that year to Kathleen Falk, who lost the general election to Republican J.B. Van Hollen.
Most recently, Lautenschlager served as chairwoman of the state Ethics Commission.
She resigned from the post last year, citing “factors that have arisen that mitigate against my continued service on the commission.”
Also last year, Lautenschlager’s son, Madison attorney Josh Kaul, announced his candidacy for state atorney general. He’s running as a Democrat against Schimel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.