Democratic candidates for AG differ on drunken driving laws

Democratic candidates for AG differ on drunken driving laws
Jon Richards, Susan Happ and Ismael Ozanne

The three democratic candidates for attorney general squared off in a debate Tuesday at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and shared their views on drunken driving laws, marijuana legalization and whether they’d choose to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

State Rep. Jon Richards, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne agreed on many of their approaches to running the AG’s office, including whether they’d defend the marriage ban, which was recently found to be unconstitutional by a federal judge.

“I have long believed that the law is unconstitutional and I would not defend it and I’m in good company,” said Richards, noting that AGs in other states have chosen to drop defenses of laws banning gay marriage.

“I think you start with whether there’s a good-faith legal basis to defend a law and if there isn’t, there’s an issue,” Ozanne said.

“As attorney general you have to first start with the constitution and I believe that law was unconstitutional,” Happ said.

Differences between the three candidates emerged during a discussion on criminalizing first-offense drunken driving. Happ, who is the first Democratic DA in Jefferson County in 70 years, said she wouldn’t support a change in the law.

“I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that someone who is impaired by the consumption of alcohol is thinking rationally to be weighing what the consequences are,” Happ said.

Ozanne, a former deputy secretary of the state Department of Corrections, vehemently disagreed.

“Driving drunk is like firing a loaded gun into a crowd,” Ozanne said. “You may not hit somebody, but if you do you’re almost certain to cause great bodily harm or death, and it’s time to start taking it seriously.”

Richards, an eight-term state representative from Milwaukee, said backroom deals killed stronger operating while intoxicated laws that he supported in the legislature.

“I think that’s wrong and we need to have an attorney general that will stand up for public safety and make sure we pass strong drunk driving laws and advocate for that,” Richards said.

Richards was also asked whether he’d support decriminalizing marijuana in Wisconsin. He said the “jury was still out” on results in Colorado and Washington, and that he wouldn’t yet support Wisconsin going down that road.

After the debate, Happ told reporters that legalizing medical marijuana may be a logical next step, but said she wouldn’t advocate for legalization. Ozanne said it would be up to the legislature.

The winner of the primary next Tuesday will face republican Waukesha County DA Brad Schimel in the general election in November.