My column for the West Bend Daily News is online.
Happ’s bid for higher office
Picks issue that keeps doors of her past closed
While all of the media attention has understandably been focused on the race for governor of Wisconsin, the race for attorney general is turning into quite the spectacle.
Susan Happ, the district attorney of Jefferson County and Democratic candidate for attorney general, has been under fire as of late. In response, she has come out with a forceful stance on an issue critical to all Wisconsinites. If elected, she promises to crack down on … for-profit colleges?
With only a month before the election, Happ released her plan to partner with other governments to look for a way to combat alleged deceptive practices of some for-profit colleges. She plans to use the power of the attorney general’s office to “vigorously enforce Wisconsin’s consumer protection laws.” As a toss-in, she also promises to use the office to educate veterans about this bane of higher education to make sure they don’t get swindled.
Setting aside the merit of the issue for now, why is Happ pushing this? And why now? There have not been any recent news stories about for-profit colleges preying on students. This hasn’t been brought up in the campaign until now. It is not an issue that falls in the top 20 of any list of issues important to the citizens of Wisconsin. Why make an matter that is not on anybody’s radar a campaign issue a month before the election?
Putting oneself in the mind of Happ’s campaign, it starts to make sense. Many of the pressing or popular issues of the day work very unfavorably for Happ.
Should the Happ campaign push to crack down on illegal campaign activity? The unpopular John Doe investigation is continues to look like the illegal and vindictive crusade of an out-of-control Democratic district attorney. Meanwhile the intended victim, Gov. Scott Walker, is pushing back and advancing in the polls. As a fellow Democratic DA, Happ doesn’t want to associate her campaign to a failed illegal persecution.
Should Happ’s campaign take the traditional “tough-on-crime” stance that voters have traditionally found popular in candidates for attorney general? That’s a tough place for Happ because then voters will take a hard look at her record as DA to see if she has actually been tough on crime. That record shows that Happ has a very checkered record with repeatedly letting serious criminals off with a slap on the wrist. No, Happ does not want the voters to look too closely at her record.
Should Happ go after the ever-unpopular sex offenders or even better, child sex offenders? Previous candidates for attorney general have made this a staple of modern campaigns. Happ can’t do that. There are already two examples in the news of her being unbelievably soft on sex offenders in her role as district attorney. One of those cases involved a man who was charged with multiple felonies for sexually abusing a minor. This perpetrator’s case was delayed for years during which he was paying Happ for a piece of property. After the payments were complete, his case was dropped to disorderly conduct and concluded. Happ does not have a leg to stand on for this campaign stance.
That is why Happ is stuck hanging her hat on for-profit colleges with a month to go until the election. It is a safe issue that does not open the door to anything in her past or force her to take positions that her behavior belies.
It is not an issue that is going to get anyone excited about her campaign. Meanwhile, her statement does work as a ploy to get the support of the employees in the University of Wisconsin system by going after UW’s competition. But she likely had most of their votes already.
It is a sign that Happ’s campaign is floundering that she trumpets such a relatively trivial issue on the eve of election when there are so many more pressing issues facing Wisconsinites. As a point of comparison, her opponent Brad Schimel, the Waukesha County DA, has released plans to combat child abuse, the spread of heroin, campus rape and domestic violence. Which candidate do you think would make a serious attorney general?
(Robinson is a West Bend resident. His column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)