IN-DEPTH: The Wisconsin attorney general’s race

Interviews with Democrat Josh Kaul and Republican Eric Toney
Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 7:24 PM CDT
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FOND DU LAC, Wis. (WBAY) - In the race for Wisconsin attorney general, incumbent Josh Kaul, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Eric Toney, a Republican. Despite having opposing views on a number of issues, they share some common ground -- literally.

The one common denominator? Fond du Lac. It’s where Kaul grew up and his challenger serves as county district attorney.

Recently we sat down with both candidates, asking how they plan to shape public policy on a variety of issues, starting with abortion -- noting that Kaul has filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s 1849 abortion ban, which does not include exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

“I’m leading the fight in court to overturn this ban. I’ve been clear that we’re not going to use resources for our DOJ investigators or prosecutors who put people behind bars for the most serious crimes in the state instead to go after nurses, or doctors for abortion prosecutions,” Kaul said.

On the other hand, Toney has said that district attorneys from neighboring districts should be able to prosecute doctors who violate the state’s law if one local prosecutor refuses to enforce it. He would also end the lawsuit.

“I will enforce the rule of law here in Wisconsin, because that is the job of the attorney general, not to pick and choose when to enforce the law,” Toney said.

Toney says what led him to run for attorney general was Kaul’s handling of the Kenosha riots that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake in 2020. He says information about a knife found on Blake wasn’t immediately disclosed, despite pleas from local law enforcement.

“It was our attorney general with the Division of Criminal Investigation that was actually investigating that shooting, had to have known a knife was found that night, that Jacob Blake admitted the next day and the day after that he was armed with a knife, and our attorney general said nothing until two people were dead and Kenosha was on fire,” Toney said.

We asked Kaul about this, and other allegations that he’s soft on crime.

“Again, I was a federal prosecutor in one of the most violent cities in the country. I prosecuted murders, gang members, drug traffickers,” Kaul said.

Kaul says he’s actually proposed more funding which would back law enforcement and reduce crime.

“About a year ago, in November of last year, I introduced the Safer Wisconsin plan, which proposes a $115 million investment in public safety, and that would include funding for officer recruitment, retention and wellness. I would also include funding for community policing, victim services,” said Kaul.

Toney says the real problem is that so many positions have been left vacant and that Kaul has created a backlog in the state’s crime lab.

“I will ensure as attorney general that those positions are never left vacant where we’ve seen our attorney general not prioritize. I will make prioritizing keeping DCI positions filled, prosecutor positions filled and fixing the mess he’s created at our crime labs,” said Toney.

Toney also touts his large number of endorsements from within the law enforcement community.

“Because of the public safety failures of our attorney general, I’m proud to be law enforcement’s choice with bipartisan support -- Republicans, Democrats, independents, sheriffs and D.A.s across Wisconsin. Over 100 sheriffs, chiefs and D.A.s have endorsed me.”

The next AG could also influence policy on election law, which was the focus of controversy in 2020.

“We need an AG who is going to stand up for our democracy and the will of the voters,” Kaul said, “not somebody who is going to fan the flames of conspiracy theories and going to try to take a partisan approach to protection of our elections.”

However, Toney says he’s been vocal among Republicans in saying you cannot legally decertify the 2020 election results. “But,” he added, “I am prosecuting more election fraud than anyone else in Wisconsin to defend the integrity of our electoral process because it’s the cornerstone of our democracy.”

How to deter gun violence is another point of disagreement between these two candidates.

“We have loopholes in our system that say if there’s a private sale, no background check needs to be conducted. What that means is that somebody who has been convicted of a violent felony, who is not allowed to have a gun, can go purchase one without going through a background check from a private seller, and that could happen online,” Kaul said.

“What we need to do is enforce the laws that we have on the books,” Toney said, “because I’ve prosecuted enough violent felons that have used guns to murder or try to kill somebody and they didn’t care what any law was. Adding another law on top of that is not going to deter them from committing more crime.”

This race is expected just as close as all of the other ones statewide. Four years ago, Josh Kaul won with less than one percent of the total vote.

Thursday on our “Your Voice, Your Vote” Action 2 News special, we turn to the race for U.S. Senate, beginning with incumbent Republican Ron Johnson. He’s seeking a third term, having first been elected back in 2010.