State attorney general candidate visits Shawano

With a primary election nine months away and general election nearly a year from now, Jon Richards is getting an early start making the rounds across the state in the race for Wisconsin attorney general.

“I think it’s important to go out and see as many people as I can as early as I can,” Richards said during a stop in Shawano on Thursday.

Richards, a Democrat from Milwaukee, has served as state representative of the 19th District since 1999.

He announced earlier this month he would seek the office being vacated by J.B. Van Hollen at the end of his term. Van Hollen has announced he is not running for re-election.

Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, a Republican, has also announced his candidacy.

If Richards is to face Schimel next November, he will first have to defeat Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne in the Democratic primary in August.

“I want to make the Department of Justice work for the people of Wisconsin again,” Richards said.

Richards said that means not only working to keep people safe but also standing up for consumers, the environment and open government.

He said the department under Van Hollen has not always done that.

“The department has gone in a different direction in the last three years,” Richards said.

Richards said Van Hollen has fought against government transparency in the courts.

“The Department of Justice took a lawsuit all the way up to the state Supreme Court with the end result that our Legislature was exempt from the open meetings law,” Richards said. “We need to change our law, so the Legislature is bound by open meetings laws and open records laws.”

Richards also criticized how settlement funds were used from a multi-state lawsuit against banks that made unscrupulous mortgage loans.

“All of the settlement funds went into the budget for Gov. Walker to use instead of going back to the people who had lost their homes and filed bankruptcy and had suffered enormous harm,” he said.

Richards said he has a track record of bipartisanship in the Assembly.

“As contentious as the Legislature can be sometimes, I’m really proud of my bipartisan record,” which, he said, has included work on bills dealing with juvenile offenders, drunken driving and domestic abuse.

Other priorities, he said, include protecting women’s health care and the environment and cracking down on drugs.

“We need to do a much better job of addressing the epidemic of heroin,” he said. “We need to step up and do that aggressively.”

Richards said the state also needs to take first-time drunken driving offenses more seriously.

“We need to do a better job of stepping in and stopping people from driving drunk again once they’ve been caught the first time,” he said. “If we come down hard on first offenders I think that can help reduce drunken driving.”

Richards said he also wants to address manpower shortages plaguing district attorneys’ offices across the state and ensure a faster turnaround time for processing evidence through the State Crime Lab.