Race for state attorney general

(First published in the October 25, 2018 issue of City Pages) 

Schimel, Kaul clash over partisanship and experience


Brad Schimel

The Nov. 6 election for Wisconsin attorney general hasn’t gotten much attention. But recent ads from incumbent Republican Brad Schimel, Democratic challenger Josh Kaul, and their allies, plus a flurry of debates, are allowing voters to know the candidates better.

One theme of Kaul’s challenge is that Schimel, a former Waukesha County district attorney, is too partisan. Schimel labels Kaul, a former federal prosecutor out of state, as somebody without the right experience.

One of Kaul’s targets is Schimel’s creation of the office of solicitor general. Kaul said in one recent debate that he’d keep the solicitor general at the Department of Justice but take a different approach toward using the office.

Schimel, meanwhile, called the office a “wild success” and said it’s undefeated in court cases.

Kaul said having the office makes sense because it identifies a DOJ employee as the chief appellate attorney. Still, Kaul said he’d have several criteria for challenging federal laws and policies, and the policy would have to harm Wisconsinites and be unconstitutional.

Kaul said Schimel’s use of the office falls short on the first point, including lawsuits to challenge environmental protections and the Affordable Care Act, which he said could end protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

“I don’t think that serves the interest of Wisconsinites,” Kaul said. “I think we have more resources in the solicitor general’s office than we need.”

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the office is authorized to have a solicitor general, three deputies and support staff. The office’s budget for 2016-17 was $790,300.

Schimel noted that the office, which includes two former U.S. Supreme Court clerks and two others who clerked in the federal appeals courts, “led the charge” against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. He added that the U.S. Supreme Court issued an injunction to cease enforcement of the regulation based just on briefs submitted to the court.

He agreed with Kaul that the office should be used to challenge unconstitutional actions, arguing the Clean Power Plan would have cost manufacturing jobs. “We have done things that have made Wisconsin stronger and safer,” Schimel said.

One audience member asked about climate change and the role of the AG’s office. Schimel began his response saying, “I believe the climate is ever-changing, yes. To what degree human beings influence that, I’m not a scientist,” prompting some laughs from the crowd. He also defended his record on the environment, and touted 2017 as the best year for economic recoveries in environmental cases in DOJ’s history.


Josh Kaul

Kaul countered that he “believes in science” and the consensus is climate change is impacted by humans, and the state needs an AG who “is going to acknowledge that.” Kaul also said fines collected from polluters have dropped dramatically under Schimel and companies that break environmental laws should be held accountable. “In 2018, no parent should have to worry about the safety of our water,” Kaul said.

In another debate (their third in five days), Kaul knocked Schimel for misplaced priorities, such as suing to overturn the Affordable Care Act. He hit Schimel for not handing out all of the school safety grants before classes started.

Schimel, meanwhile, called Obamacare unconstitutional and argued that every candidate running for office this fall has promised to provide protections for pre-existing conditions.

Schimel also said he led the way in creating the school safety program and Wisconsin has been a leader in addressing opioid abuse and other drugs.

Schimel continued to contrast his experience with Kaul. He noted several times his Democratic opponent returned to Wisconsin four years ago after working on the east and west coasts, and charged the challenger’s courtroom experience was light compared to his own. He also defended himself against attacks of partisanship by pointing out the bipartisan support he has from DAs and sheriffs. Schimel said he has more Democratic sheriffs and DAs endorsing him than Kaul does.

Kaul countered by pointing out he’s been endorsed by 61 former assistant attorneys general, including 45 with more than 900 years of combined experience at DOJ who said the agency has been a “mess” under Schimel.

The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics.