2022 AG candidates spar over expanding prosecution authority

By Zac Schultz | Here & Now

September 9, 2022 • Southeast Region

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Republican attorney general candidate Eric Toney seeks to expand the power of the office to prosecute crimes in Milwaukee, while Democratic incumbent Josh Kaul prefers statewide prosecuting authority.

The race for Wisconsin attorney general doesn’t receive as much attention as races for governor and U.S. Senate but it should. In the fall 2022 election, Republican Eric Toney is taking on the incumbent Democrat Josh Kaul. Toney is trying to make public safety and crime in Milwaukee a key issue.

“Policies that are going to make a difference must start at the top,” said Mark Sette, vice president of the Wisconsin Fraternal Order of Police while introducing the Republican candidate at a press conference in Milwaukee on Sept. 6. touting his endorsements from law enforcement and saying he would seek to expand the power of the attorney general to prosecute more crimes in Milwaukee.

If we protect Milwaukee, we will protect all of Wisconsin,” Toney said. “That’s why I have advocated for granting our attorney general original prosecution authority here in Milwaukee, so we can take on the crime that they are unable or unwilling to prosecute.”

Currently, the attorney general and Wisconsin Department of Justice can only prosecute certain crimes, leaving the rest up to the local district attorney. The change would require the legislature to pass a law giving the attorney general that authority. Democrat Josh Kaul doesn’t disagree with expanded powers but says it shouldn’t be limited to one county.

“Mr. Toney seems to be targeting Milwaukee County specifically. I think the authority the attorney general has should be consistent throughout the state of Wisconsin,” Kaul said in response at a Sept. 7 press conference. “So it’s my view there are times when the Department of Justice should be prosecuting cases, and having statewide original prosecution authority is something I’m supportive of for the Department of Justice, but what we really need in our communities is resources in our communities to fight these crimes.

Kaul said local police departments and prosecutors are underfunded because the Republican-controlled Legislature hasn’t increased shared revenue in years.

“While he is now saying that, he was silent when the Legislature attacked the DOJ’s budget in the lame duck session. He has been silent as the Legislature has consistently declined to provide funding to support Milwaukee in particular,” said Kaul.

Toney said he will work with Republicans in the 2023 budget but says in the meantime Democratic Gov, Tony Evers should take ARPA funds designed to provide COVID-19 relief and distribute them to local police departments to fight crime.

“We’ve got a budget surplus, and that’s going to be an issue the Legislature is going to have to address, and I’m going to work with them in making sure Milwaukee has those resources but that can’t happen until next year,” said Toney. “We need that now and the governor has the ability right now with those ARPA funds to help deploy and put money into Milwaukee to keep Milwaukee and all of Wisconsin safe.”

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