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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, May 25, 2024

Ideologue Van Hollen unfit for top cop

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has always put his own political image before our state. The 2010 attorney general race is barely underway, and already a recent e-mail flub has demonstrated that.

J.B.'s campaign manager was included on an official, state e-mail regarding the Attorney General's plan to sue the United States over the recently passed health-care bill. It may not be ""smoking gun"" evidence of his overt partisanship, but it certainly violates the ethics of separating campaign work from official work. At the very least, it highlights how politicized his involvement in the attack on the health bill is.

J.B. is the epitome of a partisan hack, no matter how much he tries to hide it. That's not to say some of his political opponents have not been equally biased on the other side. But in a state that's increasingly purple-blue, our state lawyer should not be an unwavering ideologue, particularly not a conservative ideologue. The job of attorney general, Wisconsin's ""top cop,"" needs to be about reasonable exercise of the justice system, not political posturing.

As his four-year term has progressed, J.B. has become increasingly conservative. He served as John McCain's state campaign chair during the 2008 elections. In August 2009, he refused to defend Wisconsin in court over a piece of the state budget that offered limited equal rights to committed gay couples. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle had to appoint outside counsel to defend the state, costing taxpayers additional money to do a job J.B. should have done.

A former attorney general himself, Doyle said in a statement at the time, ""The attorney general's job is to represent the state and defend state law when there is a good-faith defense to be made. His representation should not be based on whether he likes the state law.""

Now J.B. is joining a short list of conservative attorney generals who plan to sue the federal government over the recently passed health insurance reform bill. The e-mail that outs his ethics under further inspection is part of this highly political debacle.

Admittedly, the position of attorney general is partisan on the ballot, unlike local county board or city council elections. But the job inherently requires a reasonable candidate willing to at least discuss legal matters instead of adhering to his or her own predispositions. Having a Democratic or a Republican A.G. is not the problem. Having an A.G. unwilling to serve our state is.

Thankfully, we have an alternative. Scott Hassett, resident of rural Jefferson County, is running as a Democrat against Van Hollen. Hassett served as the Wisconsin Secretary of the DNR and worked as a trial attorney for 22 years. Although he is a proud Democrat, his campaign focuses on the belief that the A.G. office should be a post of service to the state, not a soapbox on which to grandstand and wave partisan flags.

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The election isn't until November, but at this point in time, Hassett would not win the election. Barely anyone in the state knows who he is. Not that many Democrats know who he is, despite the fact that all of them hate every over-gelled, salt-and-pepper follicle on J.B.'s scalp. The Donkeys should be throwing money, volunteers and Twizzlers at the campaign office until Hassett is drowning in support.

But the Democrats are overly concerned, perhaps rightly concerned, over the gubernatorial race. Democrat Tom Barrett is in for a tougher fight than he should be. His opponent, Republican Scott Walker, seems like a carbon copy of J.B. Van Hollen, minus a college education.

Democrats currently have a near monopoly on state government, with the governor's seat and both houses of the legislature under their thumb. But to retain such influence and make sure their policies are carried out in the infamously inefficient system we have in Wisconsin, they must reclaim the A.G. office. J.B. is a roadblock to Democratic objectives, and a well-funded roadblock at that. In the 2006 election, a boon year for Democrats, Van Hollen had $1.72 million in his campaign coffers. This year is likely to see even more fundraising, now that Wisconsin conservatives know he supports their politics.

J.B. Van Hollen is far from peripheral on the state's political stage. Re-election will only heighten his statewide profile. Even if Barrett wins the governor's mansion, J.B. will make the perfect Republican candidate to run against Tommy boy in four years. After all, Van Hollen is only 44 years old. Unless he's ousted from office now, he's got plenty of time to run for the state's top job down the line.

Jamie Stark is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. Please send responses to opinion@dailycardinal.com. 

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