Democrats Jon Richards, Susan Happ and Ismael Ozanne and Republican Brad Schimel shared common ground on the new law requiring outside investigations of police-involved deaths, collective bargaining rights of public safety workers and protecting children from Internet crimes.
They sparred over whether to criminalize first-offense OWIs.
The board of the nearly 10,000-member WPPA, which endorsed Republican J.B. Van Hollen in 2006 and 2010, soon will vote on which candidate to endorse in this race, and Saturday's debate was the first time the four candidates have debated together.
Gov. Scott Walker scaled back collective bargaining rights for most public employees but excluded public safety employees. Every candidate said Saturday they would defend bargaining rights for law enforcement.
The three Democrats said they would work to fight back against concessions other public employees made under Act 10. They highlighted the importance of good schools to prevent kids from becoming involved in crime.
Schimel said he made concessions as a public employee but would fight for the rights of law enforcement officers as attorney general. "I do not support expanding Act 10 to public safety workers," Schimel said.
Wisconsin is the only state in the nation where a first-time drunken driving conviction isn't criminalized, and the state's fatal drunken driving rate is higher than its Midwest neighbors and the national average.
Schimel said he has worked to strengthen laws regarding second and subsequent offenses and that "once you've gotten a fourth offense, every fourth offense should be a felony."
But Schimel said the state hasn't criminalized first offenses because "it's very expensive and there's no evidence it would make a difference."
"I almost can't believe what I'm hearing," Ozanne said. "... I in good conscience cannot say it shouldn't be criminalized."
Richards also said he supports criminalizing first-time offenses and expanding the use of interlock devices in the cars of drunken drivers.
Happ said she believes first-time offenders exercise a lack of judgment and "deserve the benefit of learning from their mistakes" if they don't kill or injure someone.
MOST SIGNIFICANT PUBLIC SAFETY CHALLENGE IN THE STATE
The candidates agreed heroin and other opiates are the top issue facing the state.
Ozanne said the state needs to focus on the way it prosecutes drug-related offenses.
"Heroin is a serious problem, but we're not going to get out of it by prosecuting," he said. He said the state also should focus on violent criminals.
Richards agreed that heroin is the state's most pressing issue and said the issue of Internet crimes against children is close behind.
Schimel touted his work on the HOPE legislation that passed last session and focuses on drug treatment courts that take into account issues particular to heroin addiction.
Happ said heroin addiction motivates crimes and that the state should focus on efforts to prevent addiction and control substances.
Walker signed a law in April that requires any deaths involving a police officer to be investigated by an outside agency. Since the law took effect, the Division of Criminal Investigation has investigated four deaths involving an officer.
An early proposal in the bill was to create a statewide panel of officials that would review the investigations. That aspect was removed from the successful piece of legislation, and every candidate on Saturday said they support the law as it stands.