Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Attorney General Candidate Profile: Scott Hassett

Wisconsin’s extremely heated races for governor, U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have commanded substantial statewide – and even nationwide – attention for their significance, but these are not the only major offices up for election in November.

For example, Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen faces a challenge from Democrat Scott Hassett, though few people or media outlets have taken much notice.

“It’s kind of been lost in the shuffle,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of the nonpartisan political watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.


Many people already know incumbent Van Hollen and his positions, but the limited coverage of the race has admittedly left a lot of people saying, “Scott Who”?

And this anonymity is an “incumbent’s dream,” according to McCabe.

“It is a gift to any incumbent office holder when their race doesn’t get much attention,” McCabe said. “Van Hollen is known to more voters, he was elected once before and Hassett really needs to make a case why the state needs a change.”

Who is Scott Hassett?

Hassett, who grew up in Menomonie, was exposed to politics at a young age. His father, Paul, was a former newspaper editor who went on to work as chief of staff for the state’s former Republican Gov. Warren Knowles.

“I grew up with politics and journalism, so I followed in my dad’s footsteps,” Hassett said, adding he went on to earn his journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

After working as managing editor at the Jefferson Banner, Hassett then went on to law school at Rutgers University-Camden in New Jersey and came back to Wisconsin to practice law with Madison-based firm Lawton and Cates.

Hassett said he spent 22 years with the firm and was involved in numerous types of cases, including criminal, civil, products liability, union labor and even tribal law.

Even with his long years of legal experience, Hassett is also no stranger to holding a state office: he served as Department of Natural Resources secretary under Gov. Jim Doyle from 2003 to 2007.

“I have known Jim Doyle for years…since he was Dane County District Attorney,” Hassett said. “He always knew of my passion for environmental issues, so he appointed me, and I took office in January 2003.”

During his time as secretary, Hassett used his legal background to step up enforcement in environmental law issues.

For instance, Hassett said he was closely involved in bringing a record $2 million toxic waste dumping fine against the state-based home improvement store chain Menards, and he also brought extensive suit against the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for their toxic overflows into Lake Michigan.

Hassett said he made the decision to step down as DNR secretary in 2007 to unwind from the demanding, statewide traveling required of the office.

“I loved the job, but it was a lot of travel and a pretty constant road show. And most secretaries hold their posts for two to four years before leaving,” Hassett said. “I actually took some time off and had a wonderful time visiting my daughter who was living in New Zealand at the time, and I also did a lot of writing.”

Getting DOJ back on target

Hassett said he decided to run for attorney general after he saw the need to regain the Department of Justice’s “sense of mission.”

According to Hassett, numerous departments and programs in DOJ need improvement, including the notoriously high incarceration rate for this state compared to other states in the nation.

“Compare Wisconsin to Minnesota, for example, and we have twice as many locked up and twice the money spent but with very similar populations and crime rates,” Hassett said. “We need to have a long, hard, intelligent conversation in this state about how we spend money on prosecution and incarceration.”

While there are certain people who are rightly in prison, Hassett said an alarming percentage of the population has been “warehoused” when those inmates could benefit from mental health care.

And of course, Hassett will not forget his roots as an environmental enthusiast and conservation worker.

“Environmental protection would be front and center with me, particularly in regards to water – be it with Great Lakes or groundwater protection,” Hassett said.

But Hassett is not simply stating ideas for the sake of election: He said his leadership experience at the DNR would be a valuable asset for the DOJ because both agencies are comparable in size and complexity, and he initiated many important programs in his tenure as secretary despite limited funding.

“At DNR, we got rid of huge permit backlogs and streamlined the agency even when facing a budget crisis and lay offs,” Hassett said. “We’re looking at more tough budgetary times for DOJ and other agencies, and I have that experience.”

AG more partisan than before?

Another reason Hassett declared his candidacy was seeing the increasingly partisan use of the DOJ under the partisan leadership of Van Hollen.

“No previous attorney general has been to any degree as partisan as what we’ve seen under Van Hollen,” Hassett said. “You do have to run as a partisan, but once you’re there, you have to be the people’s lawyer.”

For example, Hassett pointed to Van Hollen’s refusal to defend the state when the conservative group Wisconsin Family Council sued over the constitutionality of the state’s domestic partnership registry.

To question Van Hollen’s record as attorney general is just a desperate ploy for votes, said Andrew Welhouse, spokesperson for the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

“I think this is the type of thing you see when someone is way behind in the race and they throw things against the wall and hope something sticks,” Welhouse said. “J.B Van Hollen’s record in office has been excellent, and he hasn’t made any partisan decisions or rulings.”

Welhouse said Van Hollen has even made many Republicans unhappy at times because he followed the law instead of a party interest, evidence of Van Hollen’s sound legal judgment.

He added Van Hollen also won election in 2006, a year that was filled with Democratic victories in the governor’s office as well as the Legislature, which shows people trusted his position and ideals beyond political ties.

McCabe, who did not endorse either candidate, said there is more overall divisive partisanship in numerous state offices, which can potentially compromise the attorney general’s office.

“Before, there wasn’t partisanship as rabid as it is nowadays,” McCabe said. “The AG has had an easier time in past years becoming the people’s lawyer and putting aside partisanship, but that’s becoming more difficult because of the changing nature of partisanship.”

McCabe did say he thought both Hassett and Van Hollen have made efforts to keep this election year as nonpartisan as possible, and said both candidates seem well qualified for the office.

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