Ismael Ozanne and Susan Happ offered different reasons why each should be the Democratic nominee for attorney general, with Ozanne touting his experience and Happ emphasizing her electability.
The two Dems spoke at a Wisconsin Business Alliance forum Tuesday. The third Democratic candidate, Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee, was unable to attend because he was on the Assembly floor.
Ozanne and Happ, the district attorneys for Dane County and Jefferson County, respectively, agreed on various issues from early voting to gay marriage. They both said the attorney general should be a district attorney, unlike Richards, who has stressed that the position is more than the state's "top cop." The three meet in an August primary to decide who will go up against the likely GOP nominee, Waukesha Co. DA Brad Schimel, in the race to replace Republican J.B. Van Hollen.
Ozanne, who was previously the deputy secretary of the Department of Corrections, said his experience helping run a state agency was critical because he would be able to lead the Department of Justice on his first day in office.
"We need to make sure that when we take back this office, we hit the ground running, and experience matters," Ozanne said.
Happ countered she runs her DA's office while being in court most days. She emphasized throughout the forum that she should be the Dem nominee because she has been re-elected in a rural Republican district and would get independents' support.
"We really don't have a lot of disagreements on the issues that matter to progressives, and quite frankly, the issues that matter, I think, to most Wisconsin voters," she said of the three Dem candidates. "I think what we have to look at ... is who has the best chance of winning in November? And I think I'm that candidate."
Richards' campaign, meanwhile, said the veteran Democratic lawmaker is the most experienced and the most electable candidate. Andy Suchorski, Richards' political director, said after the forum that Richards has focused on public safety in the Legislature, authoring a bill requiring background checks for purchasing firearms, for example.
Suchorski said Richards is the "strongest candidate in this race to keep Wisconsin families safe and protect middle class families."
Ozanne and Happ agreed on numerous issues, both criticizing the voter ID law and a Republican proposal to limit early voting. They also wouldn't defend the state's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage because they think it's unconstitutional.
"In a sense, it is state sanctioned discrimination. I guess it's not too long [ago] in our country's history that my marriage would have been considered illegal, and why would I do that to anyone else?" said Ozanne, who is African American.
On drunken driving, Happ said she was most concerned with repeat offenders, calling it the "number one problem" in Wisconsin, while Ozanne said first-time offenders should be charged with a crime, rather than a civil violation.
Ozanne said that change in law would need to come with additional funding for prosecutors. And Happ said since that funding doesn't currently exist, the focus should be on curbing repeat offenses with measures like treatment courts, which they both said is the most effective method to prevent further offenses.
Some conservatives have already knocked Happ for her handling of a drunk driving case involving a former spokesman for the state Dem Party.
"Repeat drunk driving is our number one problem in our state," Happ said. "These repeat drunk drivers who get behind the wheel time and time again pose a significant risk to our communities, and first offense drivers do too. But in terms of the resources we're talking about, we just don't have them yet."
And while Happ said sobriety checkpoints are "certainly something worth looking into," Ozanne questioned their effectiveness.
While they noted there could be benefits to legalizing marijuana, both candidates raised concerns over the idea. The concerns included issues like banks not accepting money from legal marijuana stores, which could lead to safety concerns since that money can be stolen. They said they need to track what is happening in the states that legalize it.
"We're focusing on heroin," Happ said. "Heroin is really an epidemic that we're seeing the lethality, that were seeing the countless lives impacted by heroin abuse. And that's something I've focused very heavily on, and I know that is most certainly a problem that I would want to continue to address and target as attorney general."
Ozanne also said heroin abuse is a major concern for the state, noting his work in Dane County on diversion programs. He said in order for there to be a real impact in crime numbers, the state needs to work on stopping child abuse and neglect.
"If we allow a child to grow up without empathy, we are creating our worst nightmare when that person becomes an adult," Ozanne said.
-- By Polo Rocha