The candidates are scheduled to debate Saturday at the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state's largest police union. The hour-long, town hall-style debate was initially closed because it is part of the statewide police union's candidate endorsement process, WPPA executive director Jim Palmer said.
The group has closed similar debates in the past and found doing that helps to guarantee candidates for office will attend, Palmer said.
But about an hour after explaining the reasons for closing the meeting, Palmer told The Associated Press he decided let the media in to report on the event.
"We're going to open it up," he said. "We're all about transparency."
Palmer said he had spoken with all three Democratic candidates and none of them objected. They are state Rep. Jon Richards, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ.
Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel is the only Republican running. His campaign consultant Darrin Schmitz said Schimel welcomes the chance to openly debate the Democratic candidates.
Palmer said he will ask the candidates questions that are submitted in advance by WPPA members.
The WPPA will use the debate as part of its process for determining who to endorse in the race, Palmer said. Between 200 and 300 members of WPPA are expected at the meeting in Wisconsin Dells, he said.
The union endorsed the Republican incumbent J.B. Van Hollen in the previous two elections. Van Hollen is not seeking re-election this year.