Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen and Democratic candidate Scott Hassett squared off Friday night in at a TV studio in Madison in their second and possibly final debate until the Nov. 2 election.
Hassett cited a loss in correct focus in the attorney general’s office as the reason why he chose to run against Van Hollen.
“I think the incumbent has repeatedly put politics over public safety in the agency,” Hassett said.
In Hassett’s view, Van Hollen has repeatedly demonstrated his partisan biases in his dealing of cases involving stem cell litigation, health care, immigration and domestic partnerships.
However, Van Hollen disputed these claims, saying in his time as attorney general he has made decisions in favor of both parties and he always sided with the “rule of law.”
Van Hollen also countered Hassett’s claims that he refused to take on an embryonic stem cell case against a recent injunction against federal funding for stem cell research, and said Gov. Jim Doyle never gave him the opportunity.
According to Van Hollen, the Doyle administration had already contacted an outside firm and insisted the DOJ sign on to represent the state without knowing key facts about the case.
“No lawyer in their right mind is going to agree to take a position on a legal case before they know what position their client wants them to take,” Van Hollen said.
Hassett also said the case of District Attorney Ken Kratz, a Calumet County DA who resigned after allegations he ‘sexted’ various women, revealed issues of competence and “cronyism” in Van Hollen’s office.
Van Hollen made no reference to Kratz in the debate.
Both candidates also stressed how their credentials would make them the better choice for the job.
Van Hollen contrasted his experience as a prosecutor with Hassett’s inexperience.
“My opponent has never prosecuted a single case in his career, not one ever,” Van Hollen said.
Van Hollen also said his work as attorney general has earned him the endorsement of many in the law enforcement, including both Republican and Democratic district attorneys.
Hassett pointed to his experience as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and as a private practice attorney as equally valuable experience.
“I was not a prosecutor, but I have beaten prosecutors, I have lost to prosecutors, and I know what a good prosecution is,” he said.
Although the candidates debated the issues, Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said he did not think the debate will have a significant effect on the election.
In Heck’s opinion, neither candidate really came out on top, because the 30-minute debate did not allow them to go much beyond their talking points.
“I hope the next debate, if there is one, is longer,” Heck said. “I just think a half hour is not enough time to really give either candidate a chance to develop their position on issues or really go into any detail.”
Hassett said he was interested in having future debates with his opponent and Van Hollen said he was more than willing to take on Hassett again.
There are no more debates currently scheduled between the two candidates before the Nov. 2 election.