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Falk, Van Hollen

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Kathleen Falk and J.B. Van Hollen face off during Oct. 25 debate in Madison

Wisconsin Law Journal Photo/Jack Zemlicka

The legal administrator or the law enforcer?

That is the question voters will ponder prior to, or perhaps during, their ballot casting for Wisconsin Attorney General on Nov. 7.

Democratic candidate Kathleen Falk and Republican candidate J.B. Van Hollen affirmed their stances with conviction at an Oct. 26 debate at the Wis-consin State Bar Center in Madison.

More than 130 potential voters attended the hour-long debate which featured several biting rebuttals. For the most part, candidates professionally showcased their contrasting approaches to the role of attorney general.

Van Hollen, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, maintained his stern demeanor as a “law enforcement official who has been on the front lines” and hammered on his success in dealing with crime.

Falk, current Dane County Executive, emphasized her career as a civil litigator and considered her experience “longer and stronger” as an appellate lawyer while “my opponent has never argued a single case.”

Neither expected to personally handle cases as Wisconsin Attorney General, but Van Hollen noted that Falk’s inexperience in the criminal arena should prohibit her from even thinking about prosecuting as the state’s top cop.

“It would be travesty of justice if she were attorney general and she took a criminal case,” said Van Hollen.

He furthered the point by challenging Falk for her lack of “applicable experience” and proclaimed that his work in the U.S. Attorney’s office “was more like the attorney general, certainly more so than that of a county executive.”

“Look at the relevance of my record,” said Van Hollen. “Will she (Falk) be able to assist local DAs in a big case, or take that opportunity to learn and prosecute her first criminal case.”

Van Hollen also defended prior statements he made regarding the prevalence of terrorist activity in Wisconsin. Those comments came under attack by local FBI officials, but Van Hollen insisted “it would be naive and dangerous to believe we don’t have terrorists in Wisconsin.”

Falk pledged to keep Wisconsin residents safe by working with local and federal government, but thought that “for the FBI to say Mr. Van Hollen’s remarks were inappropriate, speaks for itself.”

Falk also chided Van Hollen for his narrow perception of the attorney general job. She attacked his commitment to environmental issues like mercury pollution and his willingness to defend against policies proposed by the Bush administration detrimental to the state.

“The Republican Party’s notions are out of sync with Wisconsin values,” said Falk. “I have seven detailed plans for seven top priorities in the state. My opponent does not.”

On several occasions, Falk questioned the motive of Van Hollen’s negatively-skewed ads bankrolled by business lobbyist Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and whether he will be able to make tough administrative decisions.

The candidates also offered differing views on the issues of immigration, legal marriage and concealed carry.

Van Hollen termed Dane County’s current immigration policy as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” and wondered if Falk would impede state investigators’ inquiries into a suspect’s citizenship.

Falk pledged to work with local and federal officials in regards to immigration laws and hoped to implement successful policies similar to those used in New York.

She also opposed concealed carry and the proposed amendment on gay marriage.

Van Hollen proposed that the amendment would eliminate constitutionality issues in the future because “the people’s vote will solidify the existing law.”

The candidates did connect on a few issues in their dedication to make the crime lab backlog a top priority, dissuade violent gang crime in Milwaukee and attack the budding methamphetamine problem
in the state, though their approaches differed slightly.

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