Democrat Scott Hassett says the state’s top attorney has misused his office to promote a conservative agenda that serves his political ambitions rather than the people of Wisconsin. Hassett is reaching out to LGBT, progressive and moderate voters in his effort to replace J.B. Van Hollen as Wisconsin attorney general in November.
“J.B. Van Hollen is a hard-right politician who has catered to a hard-right political base,” Hassett charged during an interview with WiG.
Early in his tenure as attorney general, Van Hollen alienated voters on the right by dropping an ethics investigation of Gov. Jim Doyle and issuing a legal opinion that said Wisconsin’s late-term abortion ban was likely unenforceable. But after coming under fire from conservative leaders, including right-wing talk show radio hosts Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner, Van Hollen seemed to veer sharply to the right.
Van Hollen refused to defend the domestic partner registry law enacted by the Legislature last year, forcing the state to spend taxpayer dollars on outside counsel to perform a job that falls under his Constitutional duties. Van Hollen’s stance on the issue was a “defining position” that endeared him to the far right, Sykes told the Associated Press.
Fair Wisconsin’s PAC has endorsed Hassett in the attorney general race, as has openly gay state Sen. Tim Carpenter and gay leader Joe Pabst.
Opposing the partner registry was one of a series of political moves by Van Hollen that conservatives applauded. He also won their praise by supporting Republican Party-backed voter registration restrictions that critics say discourage minorities from voting.
Van Hollen attempted to file a legal brief supporting Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, but Doyle nixed the effort. Democratic lawmakers refused his request to join with other right-wing state attorneys general in suing the federal government to prevent the implementation of federal healthcare reform legislation.
“What’s the Wisconsin attorney general wanting to do jumping into all these things?” Hassett asked. “There’s plenty to do right here in Wisconsin.”
Van Hollen declined WiG’s request for an interview.
“Mr. Van Hollen and I are quite the opposite on most or all social and political issues,” Hassett said. “Van Hollen went in front of the tea party rallies even before the other Republicans in the state latched on to the movement.”
Hassett said he supports full legal recognition for same-sex couples.
“I have a gay-heavy campaign, you might say,” he said. Hassett’s field manager, campaign treasurer and campaign consultant are all out gays.
A former journalist and trial attorney, Hassett served as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, where he led a law-enforcement agency comparable in size to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. DNR has 2,700 employees and a $500-million budget.
Hassett’s DNR position was an outgrowth of his work on environmental legal cases involving groundwater pollution and toxic waste. Those experiences, along with his personal interests as an outdoorsman, led him to become a staunch conservationist, he said.
In addition to his support for the environment and LBT equality, Hassett supports reproductive freedom. He criticized Van Hollen for seeking to allow pharmacists to deny oral contraception to women on the basis of their religious beliefs.
Although he takes a progressive stance on social and environmental issues, Hassett described himself as a fiscal conservative.