Democratic state Rep. Jon Richards pledged Wednesday to be "the people’s attorney general," and said if elected he wouldn’t defend at least two Wisconsin laws that he believes violate the U.S. Constitution or go against the wishes of the people.
Richards, 50, said he wants to see the attorney general’s office be more aggressive about issues such as protecting consumers’ rights and combatting the spread of illegal drugs.
For example, he called upon the state Department of Justice to investigate what he said were reports of propane price gouging during the last few weeks of unseasonably bitter cold. He said attorneys general in at least four other states had opened inquiries, and he said Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, should do the same.
"I think we should be looking into making sure people are getting a fair shake," he said.
Van Hollen’s spokeswoman, Dana Brueck, said Richards should know it’s the state’s department of agriculture and consumer protection that handles such complaints, not the Justice Department.
"The Department of Justice is aware of this issue and monitoring it," she said in an email. "However, under Wisconsin law, there is no statutory authority for the DOJ to ’investigate,’ which is something Rep. Richards should be aware of."
Richards also discussed a petition he started this week calling on the state Department of Justice to stop defending the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. He said as attorney general he wouldn’t defend the ban because it conflicts with the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing equal protection under the law.
Wisconsin voters in 2006 amended the state constitution to ban gay marriage or anything substantially similar. When asked how he would reconcile being an attorney general for the people and refusing to defend a law approved by a majority of voters, Richards said public opinion has shifted dramatically since then.
"Polling consistently shows that people would not support that ban now," he said.
He said he would also refuse to defend the law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, which opponents contend would force the closure of two abortion clinics.
Richards said he would defend other laws with which he disagrees, but he didn’t specify which ones.
He said he also favored criminalizing first-offense drunken driving and wanted to see the concealed carrying of firearms banned in taverns. Richards also wants to increase state funding to help understaffed district attorneys hire more prosecutors.
When asked whether he favored legalizing marijuana, Richards said he preferred to wait and see how the experiments in Washington and Colorado play out.
The two other Democrats in the race are district attorneys: Ismael Ozanne in Dane County and Susan Happ in Jefferson County. The winner of the Democratic primary would face Brad Schimel, the Waukesha County district attorney and the only Republican candidate.
Van Hollen has decided not to seek a third term.