Candidate Comparison: Wisconsin AG hopefuls locked in close race

By David Yates | Oct 20, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) – With only weeks remaining until Election Day, two Wisconsin district attorneys are neck-and-neck in the polls in the battle to become the state’s next top lawyer.

Republican Brad Schimel, 48, will face Democrat Susan Happ in a tight race to replace current Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. 

The Republican: A close race. Schimel holds a slight lead over his opponent, with Wisconsin voters favoring him over Happ by a 41-to-39 percent margin, according to an Oct. 1 poll conducted by Marquette University Law School.

The Democrat: Who is she again? If the polls are to be believed, name recognition, despite a fresh controversy, might be an issue for Happ, as the Marquette University poll found 79 percent of those surveyed said they don’t have an opinion of the Democratic attorney general candidate.

Background: Nearly a quarter of a century of experience prosecuting criminal cases. Since 2006, Schimel has been the district attorney for Waukesha County, running an office with 16 attorneys working under him. He joined the DA’s office upon earning his Juris Doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990.

1990 was also the year Schimel was ticketed for a drunken driving offense, according to a Jan. 8 article in the Journal Sentinel

Background: District attorney-turned-firm founder. Happ was elected Jefferson County District Attorney in November 2008 with 56 percent of the vote, becoming the first Democrat to hold the position since 1938. She ran unopposed in 2012.

After graduating from law school in 1998, Happ joined the general law firm Monogue & Witt, before starting her own practice in 2005.



Eyebrow-raiser: Schimel in favor of pay-to-play? On Oct. 3 Scott Ross, director of the progressive communications group One Wisconsin Now, produced a column accusing Schimel of turning a blind eye to corruption.

Back in January, One Wisconsin Now had asked Schimel, in his capacity as Waukesha County district attorney, to look into potential impropriety surrounding legislation introduced by state Rep. Joel Kleefisch. The bill in question would have specifically slashed the child support obligations of a millionaire Kleefisch campaign donor.

Schimel’s email response, according to the group, is as follows: “Why can't a legislator press for legislation that benefits a person who has contributed to their campaign? Isn't that the essence of representative government?”



Eyebrow-raiser: Happ a soft touch on sex offenders? On Sept. 16, the Wisconsin Reporter reported on an ethical complaint against Happ filed by a sexual assault victim. The offender in question, Daniel Reynolds, received a plea deal charging him with disorderly conduct after originally being charged with felony counts of first-degree and second-degree assault of a child.

The victim, who claims Reynolds repeatedly molested her, filed a criminal complaint against him in 2011.

Two years earlier, Happ and her husband sold an $180,000 home on a land contract to the accused.

“Reynolds who molested me got away with it,” the victim wrote in her ethics complaint. “He did not serve a day in jail, no probation, no conviction even remotely associated with the charge, or no sex offender registry despite facing 100 years in prison.”

Happ had been leading Schimel in the polls prior to the controversy.

The complaint was dismissed recently by the Office of Lawyer Regulation.

Endorsements: The law community backs Schimel. Apparently, his time as a prosecutor has netted him dozens of endorsements from sheriffs and fellow district attorneys.



Endorsements: Unions and liberal groups want Happ. Among some of the more prominent unions backing Happ are Iron Workers Local No. 8, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and United Auto Workers. Several progressive groups, such as Emily’s List and Fair Wisconsin, have also endorsed Happ.

Funding: Koch brothers support Schimel. Entering the month of August, Schimel had raised more than $420,000 in campaign contributions, raking in more than $53,000 in the month of July alone.

One of Schimel’s more generous donations includes an Aug. 11 contribution of $5,000 from Koch Industries – a PAC funded by mega-donors David and Charles Koch, campaign finance records show.

On Oct. 1 Schimel dipped into his war chest and released his first television ad, a 30-second spot showing him with his two daughters in a courtroom as a narrator calls him a decorated prosecutor with the backing of law enforcement.  

Funding: Happ’s most generous campaign donor is Happ. Throughout the first eight months of the 2014 election cycle, Happ has raised more than $213,000 in contributions, an amount that includes a $20,000 loan to her campaign.

Since March, Emily’s List Wisconsin has made two donations of $10,000 to Happ’s campaign.  







Issues: Public safety. Throughout his campaign, Schimel has made public safety a focal point, maintaining that his first priority, if elected, would be combating the increasing heroin problem in the state.

Some of Schimel’s other political platforms include protecting states rights, the Second Amendment, and jobs through fostering a stable legal climate. Schimel also seeks to combat human trafficking, violence against women and Internet crimes.    

Issues: Protecting consumers. Like her Republican rival, Happ has promised to crack down on Internet predators and fight the heroin epidemic. Protecting consumers from less than legitimate entrepreneurs has also been a central theme of Happ’s candidacy. 






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