Wisconsin's 2022 Republican primary for attorney general

Former state legislator Adam Jarchow and Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney are leading candidates in the Republican primary for Wisconsin Attorney General, in which the pandemic and 2020 election stand out as issues.

By Zac Schultz | Here & Now

July 28, 2022

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The office of Attorney General is frequently referred to as Wisconsin’s “Top Cop” and Republican Eric Toney said his 10 years as the Fond du Lac County District Attorney have prepared him for the role.

“I kind of like to say I’ve had the misfortune of prosecuting almost every case you can think of,” he said.

Toney said he decided to run after the Jacob Blake shooting in August 2020 led to riots in Kenosha. He said the incumbent AG, Democrat Josh Kaul, didn’t publicly support the police officer who shot Blake.

“To have an attorney general that’s not standing with our law enforcement, I could not sit back and watch that continue,” said Toney. “That’s what got me ultimately in this race for attorney general.

Ironically, it was Toney’s candidacy that led his primary opponent, Republican Adam Jarchow, to enter the race.

“I’m the only candidate in this race with the depth and breadth of experience to, on day one, immediately walk into that office and be able to handle every single one of the issues that would come before the AG,” Jarchow said.

Jarchow previously served in the state Assembly, but was out of office in 2021 when he started saying a more conservative candidate needed to challenge Toney for the nomination.

“Having a robust primary where issues are vetted, where candidates are vetted, is incredibly important,” Jarchow said. “And when you add to that – that my primary opponent, Eric Toney, helped enforce Governor Evers’ illegal lockdown order by prosecuting small business owners.”

Eric Toney sits on a chair in a courtroom with tables and a raised judge's bench in the background.

Eric Toney is the district attorney for Fond du Lac County, and decided to run for Wisconsin Attorney General after the Jacob Blake shooting and subsequent rioting in Kenosha in August 2020. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

Toney said he never actually prosecuted anyone for not obeying the lockdown orders in the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My primary opponent has attacked me relentlessly for covid, where my job is to follow the rule of law,” said Toney. “Even when President Trump was supporting those safe at home efforts during the first 13 days, we had filed a small number of cases, but I used my discretion to dismiss all of them because it was the right thing to do.”

Toney continued: “And then when that illegal, extended stay at home order came out in April, we didn’t enforce it at all here in Fond du Lac County.”

Toney said it’s his experience as a district attorney that sets him apart – considering nearly every attorney general in state history has prosecutorial experience.

“Voters will look at our top cop and they want someone that has that experience prosecuting, being in the trenches with our law enforcement. And I’m the only candidate that has actually done that,” said Toney.

The third candidate in this primary is Republican Karen Mueller, an attorney from Chippewa Falls. She did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

A stenciled sign painted on a frosted glass door reads "Office of the Attorney General Josh Kaul."

The winner of the Republican primary for Attorney General of Wisconsin will go on to face incumbent Josh Kaul, a Democrat, in the fall 2022 election. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

As for prosecuting experience, Jarchow said times are changing and it’s his experience that matters more.

“As we’ve looked at the way the role of attorney general has expanded all around the country, we see fewer and fewer prosecutors being elected to that office,” he said. “That kind of was the old model. The new model really is people from the private sector or who have legislative experience, because so much of what you do as attorney general is manage a huge agency.”

The Attorney General has always been a partisan office, but Wisconsin voters have previously voted for a governor of one party and an AG of the other. But in the last decade, AG’s across the country have become more active challenging state and federal laws, acting in concert with their political parties.

“It’s increasingly important because we’re in an era of unchecked power of the federal government and our own bureaucracy here in the state of Wisconsin,” said Jarchow. “So you have to understand that the role of the AG can be to rein in the federal government.

Adam Jarchow sits on a chair with dark wall in the background.

Adam Jarchow is a former state legislator from northwestern Wisconsin, and decided to run for state Attorney General to offer voters a more conservative candidate. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

Toney said there are limits to partisanship in office.

“I’m going to follow the rule of law. And the rule of law is not always popular,” he said.

Toney pointed to the current debate among Republican voters about the validity of the 2020 presidential election.

“We have not seen any court here in Wisconsin make a determination of fraud to some level that could have had an impact on the 2020 presidential election here in Wisconsin,” Toney said.

There was no widespread fraud that impacted the outcome of the election, but Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories have many Republicans convinced the election can be overturned.

“We cannot decertify the election. There is no way to do it. And I have talked about this all across Wisconsin,” Toney said. “I have these discussions. I have this dialogue, and that’s where the Republican Party is at. That’s why I received the overwhelming endorsement vote at our state convention, because I’m willing to be upfront and tell people the truth, not just when it’s popular.”

A carved marble façade atop a row of columns reads "Equal Justice Under Law" with Classical-style statues arrayed above.

State attorneys general are increasingly active in filing lawsuits related to state and federal policies to further partisan agendas and often make their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

Jarchow said the key to convincing Republican voters the election was fair is to elect Republicans.

“If we can secure our elections, which I believe we will do when we have a Republican governor and a Republican AG, that will restore faith in our election process,” said Jarchow.

The winner of this primary will face Josh Kaul in the general election – Toney said voters should consider electability.

In 2018, Jarchow ran for the state Senate in a special election and lost a seat that hadn’t voted for Democrats in decades. The seat flipped back to Republicans the next election.

“If you can’t win that seat, you cannot win Wisconsin. And even at the state convention, his own county voted to support me. The people that know him best rejected him,” said Toney.

Jarchow said the special election was a fluke in a strong year for Democrats, the opposite of what he expects for 2022.

“Their base turned out and ours didn’t in a very low turnout special election,” said Jarchow. “I don’t think that that’s indicative at all of the kind of candidate that I’ve historically been – winning my Assembly seats by wide margins – and certainly not indicative of how we will thump Josh Kaul.”

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