By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin attorney general hopeful Brad Schimel blasted opponent Susan Happ as a liberal activist looking to pursue a partisan agenda as the two candidates criticized each other’s philosophies during their first debate Sunday.
Schimel, a Republican who serves as Waukesha County district attorney, and Happ, a Democrat who works as Jefferson County’s top prosecutor, are locked in a tight race as the Nov. 4 election approaches. They went straight at each other during the hour-long debate at Marquette University’s law school.
Schimel seized on Happ’s previous remarks that she would not defend the state’s Republican-authored gay marriage ban or its voter photo identification requirement. Schimel has said he would defend both laws. The attorney general can’t be a “super-legislator” and choose what laws to support, he said.
“My opponent is an activist. She has promised her supporters she will use the Department of Justice to pursue an ideological agenda,” Schimel said. “Wisconsin has to have an attorney general who will enforce the laws as they’re written.”
Happ insisted she’s not a politician and accused Schimel of blindly committing to defending all state laws, even if they’re unconstitutional.
“The attorney general is not a robot,” she said.
Schimel and Happ traded jabs on a number of other topics but didn’t break much new ground. Both reiterated that they’re not convinced criminalizing first-time drunken driving would make much difference beyond driving up court costs and both said the key to slowing heroin use is treatment and education. They also said the attorney general should advocate for more treatment and diversion programs to reduce the state’s prison population.
The moderator pressed Schimel on whether he would defend a state law that bars outside groups from coordinating with candidates. That law is at the heart of an investigation a group of prosecutors have been conducting into whether Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign fundraising illegally coordinated with conservative groups. Schimel said he wasn’t sure. Happ was not asked about the law.
Happ sounded frustrated at one point when Schimel brought up the case of Daniel Reynolds, an alleged child molester who bought Happ’s house. Conservative groups have accused Happ of going easy on him because he bought her house. Happ’s office charged him a year after the sale was completed and eventually allowed him to avoid a conviction if he submitted to monitoring and evaluations.
Happ has insisted she recused herself from that case and an assistant made all the decisions in it, but Republicans continue to hammer her on it.
“If there’s an appearance of conflict, prosecutors must screen themselves off. That’s what I did,” Happ said.
She said the case came to her office in 2013, after the home sale had been completed. Schimel’s campaign insisted after the debate that the case came into her office in 2012 while the sale was still pending. Happ’s campaign spokesman said in an email to The Associated Press that Happ meant to say 2012.