The candidates include two district attorneys — Susan Happ in Jefferson County and Ismael Ozanne in Dane County — and one state lawmaker, Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee. They'll meet in an Aug. 12 primary, and the winner will take on Republican Brad Schimel, the Waukesha County district attorney.
Happ said she has proven she can attract votes from Republicans and independents as well as Democrats. Ozanne said he had more years of experience as a prosecutor than Happ does, giving him a better chance of beating Schimel. And Richards said he has the strongest statewide grass-roots organization.
"We're all progressives; we're all good people. You haven't heard a lot of differences tonight," Happ said. "... It comes down to who can win" in the general election, she said.
Among the notable moments of the forum:
Richard used his opening statement to tout his experience as a lawyer, lawmaker and small-business owner. He criticized Citizens United, saying the U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave a green light to unlimited corporate spending in elections was destroying the political landscape.
Happ, the only female candidate, said she wanted to work to keep women safe from domestic violence and protect their access to reproductive health care. She said as someone who nearly died during childbirth, she would be a strong advocate for the right to reproductive access.
Ozanne focused on his experience leading the Dane County prosecutor's office. He mentioned how he brought a lawsuit in 2011 challenging Gov. Scott Walker's law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers. Ozanne argued that the Legislature violated the state open meetings law in passing the proposal. Although the case was ultimately rejected by the state Supreme Court, he said he showed he was willing to stand up for the people of Wisconsin.
FIGHTING HEROIN ABUSE
All three candidates agreed that heroin was one of the largest problems facing the state. They also agreed that the answer involved providing more treatment for low-level users, more diversionary programs to keep people from getting hooked and more tools for law enforcement to fight the spread.
Ozanne said a bigger issue was getting a handle on just how bad the problem was. He said he wanted to provide more resources to help parents understand how to keep their kids off heroin, and provide more resources to opiate offenders.
"We need to wake up. We're not going to prosecute our way out of the heroin problem," he said.
The candidates all talked about how important it is to protect air and water resources, particularly from corporate interests. They spoke of partnering with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Natural Resources to expand the office's influence.
Richards pointed out that as a lawmaker, he was the only one with experience standing up to mining companies from out of state that try to influence legislators.
"We need an attorney general with experience, who will make sure we're protecting our citizens," he said.