A Political Analyst Weighs In On The Wisconsin Attorney General Race

Oct 25, 2018

Wisconsinites will choose the state's new attorney general on Nov. 6. Incumbent Republican Brad Schimel and Democratic challenger Josh Kaul are vying for the position. To help you understand a bit more about the attorney general race, we reached out to political analyst and UWM Professor of Urban Planning Mordecai Lee

Meet The Candidates For Attorney General
 >>Brad Schimel (R)
 >>Josh Kaul (D)

Here are some highlights of our conversation.

What are the key issues in the race for attorney general?

"Generally speaking in politics, when there's an incumbent, no matter what office we're talking about, an election is a referendum on the incumbent," Lee said. "In other words, do the voters feel the incumbent did a good job or a bad job?"

Do you think there are any substantive issues that the referendum will be on particularly?

"I suspect, and this is purely a guess, that the issue of Obamacare and the lawsuit against Obamacare, might end up being a defining issue," he said. "Just like the state is very split on politics in general, on Gov. Walker, they're also very split on Obamacare and the issue of pre-existing conditions."

Lee notes that Schimel joined a challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act that would eliminate the current federal law that deals with pre-existing conditions and says where people stand on this could be emblematic of the race as a whole.

Do the candidates have any weak spots?

"I suspect that for any average voter who follows this in terms of what the campaign ads are or newspaper coverage, it's pretty easy for them to see what the challenger thinks are the incumbent's weaknesses and what the incumbent thinks are the challenge's weaknesses," Lee said. "So, we see them arguing about testing of rape kits or the crime lab, or we see arguments about experience and qualifications. We see arguments about acting on the opioid epidemic."

But he says if the voter agrees with the record, there's no poll test that should prevent them from voting one way or the other: "In a democracy, there's no such thing as casting the wrong vote."

How does the attorney general position function as a partisan office?

"In American culture, law is very important. After the governor's office, which is the most important position in state government, what's the next most important office? It seems to me it's the AG, in terms of the power and the decision-making and the discretion and the law enforcement," Lee said.

He notes that attorney general is a partisan position, so when it comes to high levels of public policy it makes a difference in terms of party.

"I think it's important to emphasize that we live in such a politicized age, and Wisconsin is just so gridlocked and so paralyzed — with 48 percent of the people on one side and 48 percent of the people on the other," Lee said. "I'm guessing that some people will understand: do I like the fact that a governor and an AG are from the same party or would I prefer that there be a governor and AG of different parties, is that good for checking and balancing government?"

How do attorney generals push back against policies and laws that oppose their particular political affiliations?

"I think it really becomes obvious about the importance of the partisan affiliation of an AG when we look at all of the lawsuits that have been filed by state attorney generals over the last four years," he said. "Some of them, like the incumbent here in Wisconsin, have participated in class action lawsuits, for example against Obamacare, to get it declared unconstitutional. That's the law that protects those with pre-existing conditions."

But some Democratic attorney generals in other states, "we see them going to court on the opposite side of the political fence. They're trying to block an immigration crackdown or a rollback of regulations that have to do with the environment or with consumer protection. So, the kinds of issues that voters care about all have legal aspects, and so the party affiliation of the AG is very important to reflect whatever it is that the majority of voters want," Lee said.