Wisconsin attorney general race 2022: Josh Kaul vs. Eric Toney
What does Wisconsin’s attorney general do?
The Wisconsin attorney general heads the state Department of Justice. The partisan position is elected for a four-year term and oversees more than 700 employees, including many lawyers who represent the state.
The DOJ enforces state laws against individuals and corporations in Wisconsin. It has many units, focusing on everything from criminal investigations to criminal appellate prosecution to complex civil litigation, and also houses the state crime lab.
State attorney generals have taken on a more national role in recent years, often depending on whether their politics align with the president, by joining or opposing multistate federal lawsuits — some for or against the federal government
What’s at stake?
The state's next attorney general will make a big difference in Wisconsin on a number of policy grounds — including abortion, the environment, health care, immigration and crime.
While both candidates prioritize combatting crime and efforts like processing sexual assault test kits and stopping robocalls, they do vary widely on civil issues, how to challenge the federal government and some specific criminal issues like voter fraud and abortion law enforcement.
LISTEN: Conversation with Marquette political science professor Paul Nolette about what's at stake in the attorney general race.
Who are the candidates?
Biography: Josh Kaul became Wisconsin's attorney general in January 2019. He has focused on criminal prosecutions, defending natural resources and contesting laws that restrict access to the ballot box, among other issues. Kaul grew up in Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. His mother, Peg Lautenschlager, was attorney general in Wisconsin from 2003 to 2007. Kaul went to college at Yale and attended Stanford Law School and was president of the Stanford Law Review. He then served as a federal prosecutor in Baltimore and returned to Wisconsin to raise a family.
Select endorsements: Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, End Citizens United, AFT Local 212 MATC, Human Rights Campaign. Additional endorsements listed on Kaul’s website and Twitter.
Articles worth checking out: Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul shares his policies and hopes for a second term (WUWM), What you need to know about Josh Kaul, the Democratic attorney general running for another term in Wisconsin(Journal Sentinel)
Biography: Eric Toney has been serving as the Fond du Lac County district attorney since 2013, where he helped establish a drug treatment court. Toney grew up in Fond du Lac in a law enforcement family. He earned his undergraduate degree from St. Norbert College and graduated from law school at Hamline University. As a law student, Toney returned home every summer to Fond du Lac to intern in the district attorney’s office. Toney is the president-elect of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association.
Select endorsements: Wisconsin Fraternal Order of Police, Milwaukee Police Association, Milwaukee Police Supervisors Organization, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Family Action, National Rifle Association. Additional endorsements listed on Toney's website.
Articles worth checking out: A non-interview with Wisconsin attorney general candidate DA Eric Toney(WUWM), What to know about Eric Toney, the Republican candidate for Wisconsin attorney general(Journal Sentinel), ‘A hammer in search of a nail’: Wisconsin AG candidate prosecutes eligible voters for address snafus (Wisconsin Watch)
Where do the candidate stand on key issues?
Kaul: Kaul says his top priority is public safety. His administration has investigated and prosecuted homicides, sexual assaults, robberies, internet crimes against children and drug trafficking. He supports for increased funding for public safety, and has advocated for more DOJ funding and for “strengthening Wisconsin’s system for pretrial detention.” His Safer Wisconsin plan would invest $115 million into community policing and prosecution, law enforcement officer recruitment and retention, and mental health crisis response teams.
Toney: Toney says he "backs the badge" and will fight any effort to repeal qualified immunity for police officers. As district attorney, he prosecuted homicides, sexual assaults, drug crimes, domestic violence, and financial crimes and racketeering. Toney wants the Legislature to work with the AG’s office to take over Milwaukee County’s DA's office to “take on the cases that they’re unable or unwilling to prosecute in Milwaukee.”
Kaul: Kaul supports firearms restrictions — including red flag laws, which keep guns out of the hands of people who a judge has found to be a danger to themselves or others. Kaul has repeatedly called for the passage of gun-safety legislation, like expanding background checks, creating extreme risk protection orders (such as red flag laws), prohibiting ghost guns and increasing the felony classification for repeat felon-in-possession and straw purchasing offenses.
Toney: Toney supports gun access. He opposes red flag laws and says these laws serve to restrict people’s lawful right to exercise their constitutional Second Amendment rights. Toney also says that Wisconsin has laws on the books that guarantee due process rights for any firearm restrictions. He says, “We can’t legislate our way to safety on this issue and it will only serve to impede law-abiding citizen’s constitutional rights.”
Kaul: Kaul supports reproductive freedom and has said that he will not use resources to prosecute violations of the state’s 1849 abortion ban. Kaul has said that under the law, a sexual assault victim could be compelled to carry a rapists’ baby to term. Kaul has called on Wisconsinites to contact their legislators and let them know they need to act for reproductive freedom. He has also sued to block the law.
Toney: Toney says he will enforce the state’s 1849 abortion law and will use DOJ resources to help district attorneys’ offices around the state to prosecute people for providing abortion care. He says he will enforce the law as passed by the state Legislature “whether it agrees with my personal pro-life beliefs or not.”
Kaul: Kaul’s administration successfully defended the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin against multiple legal challenges. He called former President Donald Trump’s lawsuits over Milwaukee and Dane counties' votes “a disgraceful Jim Crow strategy for mass disenfranchisement of voters.” Kaul called for the GOP-led 2020 election probe to be shutdown and defeated an effort to deactivate tens of thousands of voter registrations.
Toney: Toney “strongly supports improving and defending Wisconsin election laws.” He says he’s prosecuting more election fraud than anyone in Wisconsin and has convicted two defendants of breaking election laws in November 2020. He says he wants to “hold the Wisconsin Election Commission Board accountable for their actions in 2020” and “the Attorney General is responsible for defending state law, including issuing opinions to clarify the law or filing lawsuits to defend our election laws.”
Kaul: Kaul supports environmental regulations that can protect natural resources and prevent climate change. He says we should all have access to safe, clean drinking water and clean air, and we must take action to address the climate crisis. His administration has sued both individuals and corporations for violations of the Clean Air and Water Acts and other federal and administrative environmental law violations.
Toney: Toney does not have anything on his candidate website about environmental stewardship, but says he “supports curtailing unlawful administrative overreach.” He says that Wisconsin law limits administrative agency authority to that which is explicitly granted by statute and that “anything not explicitly granted must go through the rule-making process.” During a debate, he said, " “I have a record as a district attorney of protecting our environment" and that he will fight to protect the environment.
Kaul: Kaul withdrew from several lawsuits his GOP-predecessor joined, including one to have the Affordable Care Act invalidated. Then in an amicus brief, he argued the ACA should not be struck down. Kaul’s administration joined a multistate investigation into JUUL’s marketing and sales practices of e-cigarettes, netting about $14 million for Wisconsin and also joined multistate antitrust suits against opioid manufacturers and settle with drug companies for $31 million.
Toney: Toney will oppose the Biden administration’s, including the U.S. Department of Justice’s, legal efforts. Toney says he “will oppose federal overreach by the Biden Administration. Whether it is the Second Amendment, protecting the unborn, ensuring our immigration laws are enforced fairly, and defending the rights of crime victims.”
Wisconsin's midterm elections are Tuesday, November 8, 2022. If you have a question about voting or the races, submit it below.