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Wisconsin Attorney General race heats up
by Paul Lundgren
They want to fight terrorism, methamphetamine use, government fraud and Internet predators. Their main objective is to eliminate the state’s crime-lab backlog. Where they differ is how they would do those things.
It’s been a bitter contest between J.B. Van Hollen and Paul Bucher in the Republican primary race for Wisconsin Attorney General, hitting the low point — so far — during a radio debate last month in which Bucher labeled one of Van Hollen’s comments as “stupid.”
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Bucher continued to argue with Van Hollen during a commercial break, prompting Van Hollen to tell him, “That’s why you suck, Paul, because you only listen to people who agree with you.”
Bucher was pressing Van Hollen to explain a remark he had made in January during a visit to the Superior Rotary Club. According to the Superior Daily Telegram, a Rotarian asked Van Hollen about terrorist concerns in the district, and Van Hollen responded: “Do we have cells in this area? Yes. There is significant terrorist activity in every jurisdiction of the United States.”
While both candidates say terrorism is a legitimate concern and promise to work with federal agencies to deal with it, their rhetoric still clashes.
“Unlike my opponent, I’m not going to make reckless statements that terrorists are training in Northwest Wisconsin,” Bucher said in a mid-August interview. “But I am going to acknowledge that terrorism is an issue that all of us in law enforcement have to be concerned with and deal with.”
Countered Van Hollen: “Tens of millions of dollars have been sent Wisconsin’s way from the federal government for terrorism prevention.
We wouldn’t be making things that high of a priority and spending that sort of resources if we didn’t have cause to be vigilant around here.
It would be naïve to believe that our state is somehow immune and assume that we’re not going to have terrorism concerns here. That would be irresponsible.”
The candidates also have clashed over fundraising, with Van Hollen boasting he has a bigger war chest while Bucher claims he’s raised more money. Both are right.
Campaign finance reports released in July show Van Hollen had $417,254 in his campaign account, while Bucher had $85,397. But $350,000 of Van Hollen’s money came from his personal loan to the campaign.
“I have three times as many contributors as he has,” Bucher said. “Mine are spread through the entire state; his are pocketed in Madison.
And then he takes out a home mortgage and a personal loan the day before the reports are due … I’m not going to compete with that. I’m not going to mortgage my children’s future for this.”
In an Aug. 21 interview, Van Hollen said he’s raised an “equal amount if not a little more” than what he’s put into the campaign. As of the July report, he’d raised about one-third of the amount he put in.
“Paul Bucher and his people are astute enough to know that you don’t win a statewide campaign with that little bit of money,” Van Hollen said. “We have enough money to run the ads and do the things we need to do to get our message out. When someone is looking at defeat that way, they start to get dirty because the only way you can win is to attack your opponent.”
Both candidates said they expected their race to be contentious. They predict the top Republican vote getter faces an uglier campaign against the Democratic primary winner on Nov. 7.
“The general election—that’s going to be rough and tumble,” Bucher said. “If you think this is contentious, hang on to your socks. You ain’t seen nothing. The last thing the Democrats want at the capital in Madison is a pro-life guy, a pro-gun guy, a pro-business guy who’s an aggressive prosecutor that will hold a few people’s feet to the fire.”
Though Van Hollen might say the same thing, he’s determined to maintain a separation from Bucher.
“I don’t think we are similar on the issues,” he said. “The more I learn about his positions on the issues, the more I realize that we’ve got more dissimilarities than we do similarities.”
Raised in the heart of Northwest Wisconsin, near Chetek and later in Delta Township, just south of Iron River, Van Hollen is the son of John C. Van Hollen, who first served in the state Legislature, and then as Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson’s first northern representative.
He began his law career as an assistant state public defender in Spooner, then moved on to became a federal prosecutor as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Western District of Wisconsin.
After holding district attorney positions first in Ashland County, then in Bayfield County, he was appointed by President George W. Bush as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, making him the chief federal law enforcement officer for two-thirds of the state. He resigned from that position last year to run for attorney general.
He lives in Waunakee with his wife Lynne and two children.
Born and raised on Milwaukee’s south side, Bucher is the son of a single mother who worked as a telephone operator and saleswoman. His law career began in 1983, when he joined the Waukesha County district attorney’s office as an assistant D.A. Five years later, Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed him D.A. It’s a position he’s held for 18 years, the longest anyone has held that office.
He lives in Merton with his wife Jessica and five children.
The crime-lab backlog
Both candidates want to fix the state’s crime-lab backlog, saying they’re annoyed by Lautenschlager’s request for five new consumer protection positions in her last budget, but only four new crime lab positions.
Bucher’s plan: “Ten new analysts right away.”
Meanwhile, Van Hollen wants to reorganize the Department of Justice to put greater emphasis on forensics positions. “We’re going to train local law enforcement who want to be trained in computer forensics to do some of their own computer forensics,” he said. “And then we’re going to make sure that what is remaining gets funded because when it’s that high of a priority then you knock other things off the back end.”
Bucher proposes paying for additional positions by increasing Wisconsin’s crime laboratory/drug law enforcement surcharge from $8 to $50 and removing some exemptions to it.
“That won’t work,” Van Hollen said. “It’ll cost society more than it will raise.” He said most criminals won’t pay the surcharge anyway, and when they get prosecuted for it, more resources and funds will be wasted.
Both candidates agree using private-sector partnerships, such as private labs used in a consulting contract capacity, is a good idea.
“There are many firms in Wisconsin and throughout the nation that are willing to work with the Department of Justice and the government to try to assist them in reducing the backlog in the crime laboratory — whether it’s DNA or forensic analysis,” Bucher said.
Both candidates view methamphetamine use in Wisconsin as a growing concern, but they disagree whether the northwest part of the state deserves special attention.
Bucher would create a methamphetamine strike force in Northwest Wisconsin, under supervision of the deputy attorney general, to be operated out of the Department of Narcotics Enforcement.
“Meth is right now the overwhelming issue that’s impacting that area of the state,” Bucher said. “Those are the counties that are being impacted by the overrun of meth and those are the counties that have the least ability to deal with it.”
Van Hollen’s response: “Paul Bucher’s inexperience and lack of knowledge about the meth problem shows when he says that it’s a Northwest Wisconsin problem. It’s just as bad a problem in west-central, southwest and even central Wisconsin as it is in the Northwest.
Van Hollen said meth should be addressed as are heroin, cocaine and crack cases.
“We have to still crack down on the labs, but we have to look at the importation thing and we have to work the cases up the ladder and try to take out the higher-level dealers, which frequently means interstate and international cooperation.”
Both candidates are concerned about voter fraud and would push to require voters to show photo identification.
Both also oppose gay marriage and support efforts to amend the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
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