Let’s begin by saying the office of state attorney general – and all law enforcement positions – should not be partisan races. The reason why it is fundamentally wrong for these positions to be partisan can be summed up by the actions of our current Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel.
Schimel was recently labeled “Worst Attorney General in Wisconsin History” in an editorial by The Capital Times, an opinion that has been reiterated in several other publications since then.
“Historically,” The Capital Times states in the Sept. 5 editorial, “this state’s attorneys general have understood that, when the election was done, it was necessary to eschew partisanship, ideological loyalties and allegiances with national politicians in order to do the right thing for Wisconsinites.
Schimel lacks this understanding. That is why 45 former assistant attorneys general with [more than] 900 years of experience working under both Republican and Democratic AGs have signed a letter that objects to Schimel’s bumbling of his responsibilities…”
The letter referenced from the assistant attorneys general ended with this thought: “Brad Schimel does not merit a second term as attorney general.”
Here are some of the reasons why even some Republicans take issue with Schimel’s time in office:
- Former Wisconsin Corrections Secretary Ed Wall said Schimel “completely botched” the investigation into the troubled Lincoln Hills teen prison north of Wausau. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has had to step in.
- The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorialized on Schimel’s defense of indefensible Republican voter measures, writing, “We urge Schimel to stop defending this blatantly partisan effort to tamp down the votes of the opposing party.”
- He has been accused of serving Gov. Scott Walker, rather than the people who elected him, particularly in the John Doe investigations regarding potential illegal campaigning by Walker’s team. Schimel’s report was filled with inaccurate information that resulted in a seven-page rebuke from the Democratic and Republican heads of the Ethics Commission.
- Schimel likes swag. He reportedly has spent $83,000 of taxpayer money on self-promotional items such as custom-made fortune cookies and gold-plated coins emblazoned with the acronym of his personal motto, KAED (Kicking Ass Every Day).
- He has received seven “Pants on Fire” ratings from PolitiFact Wisconsin, the last of which was in April 2017 when Schimel claimed during his first two years in office, hundreds of backlogged rape kits had been tested, when in fact only nine had been tested. The time prosecutors await for test results – including DNA and toxicology – has reportedly doubled under Schimel.
- Department of Justice employees must sign broad, non-expiring non-disclosure agreements to work in the office Schimel oversees. He also fought hard to keep taxpayer-purchased law enforcement training videos he made from being released under open records law.
- Fines for polluters have halved since his Republican predecessor, J.B. Van Hollen, was in office. In a 2016 air pollution lawsuit, Schimel settled without imposing a fine, a first in the last quarter-century for polluters in Wisconsin. That same company has been documented for more pollution lapses this year. Schimel is unable to fill open positions in his environmental unit, the speculation being that this once sought after position is no longer of interest to lawyers who work on environmental law don’t want their hands tied by a partisan boss.
- But the politicization of the office under Schimel is what is attracting the most attention. Schimel’s AG office has joined in clearly partisan friend-of-the-court briefs that range from opposing efforts in Maryland to remove a cross-shaped monument on public land to taking on the Democratic attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts, who claim oil giant Exxon Mobil defrauded shareholders by downplaying risks of climate change regulation. Schimel’s brief disputes established science on the source of climate change, and went on to claim to the Wisconsin State Journal that he filed the brief on behalf of Wisconsin, which might be found liable for providing roads for people to drive their cars on, an explanation that caused another attorney who filed a brief in support of Exxon Mobil to say to the newspaper regarding Schimel’s explanation, “Wow. That’s one of the loonier things I’ve heard.”
The choice here is clear.
Challenger Josh Kaul, a former federal prosecutor who has received the backing of 61 former assistant attorneys general, has said he would reduce the scope of the agency’s six-member solicitor general’s office, which handles Schimel’s political friend-of-the-court briefs. He has also said he would expand the state’s enforcement of environmental and consumer protection laws, making sure fines are used as a deterrent.