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Citizen Dave: Liberal support for Susan Happ in Wisconsin AG primary is hard to understand
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Why doesn't Happ want to get tough on drunk driving?
Credit:Susan Happ for Wisconsin

A movement seems to be brewing among Wisconsin liberals to get behind Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ in the Democratic primary for attorney general on August 12. She is facing Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and state Representative Jon Richards. The winner will go on in November to face Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

Happ has the support of former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, the national fundraising network EMILY's List, some unions and other influential liberals. One of these supporters looks to be Capital Times associate editor John Nichols, who wrote a glowing column about her recently.

The argument in favor of Happ has two common themes.

The first is that Happ is more electable because she comes from rural and generally Republican Jefferson County. The common theory among Democratic insiders is that urban voters will have no problem voting for somebody from a rural area, but voters outside of cities won't vote for an urban candidate.

That would be pretty sad if it were true, but there isn't much evidence for it. Tammy Baldwin hails from the belly of the beast on the east side of Madison, and she beat the quintessential Wisconsin guy, Tommy Thompson of Elroy. Russ Feingold grew up in Janesville and lived in the Madison suburb of Middleton. Jim Doyle lived most of his life in Madison. Herb Kohl was famously from the center of Milwaukee -- remember the stories about his early morning breakfast ritual at George Webb's? Even Scott Walker was the county executive for the most urban of Wisconsin counties.

More important than electability, though, is a capacity to do the job. One of the biggest issues facing the next attorney general will be the huge number of African American men from urban areas locked up in our state’s prisons. A recent study found that Wisconsin leads the U.S. in black male incarceration, with a rate twice the national average. How does a candidate from a county where the African American population is 1% and where the largest city has 12,000 residents have a point of reference to even start to address this fundamental problem?

The second argument is that Happ is more electable because she doesn't want to get tough on drunk driving. Wisconsin has a huge problem with drinking and driving, and we are the only state where first offense drunk driving is not a criminal offense. Ozanne and Richards support joining the rest of the nation in treating driving while intoxicated with all the seriousness that it deserves, but Happ does not.

Drunk driving accounts for one-third of all traffic fatalities in Wisconsin. It's an epidemic. In Dane County, we have just had a stark reminder of why this is so important. Bruce Burnside, a former Lutheran bishop, was just sentenced to ten years in prison for killing Maureen Mengelt, a mother of three who was out for a Sunday morning jog. Burnside's blood alcohol level was about twice the legal limit, but it was his first offense. So, if he had swerved but missed Mengelt, he would have gotten off with a slap on the wrist.

Happ says this kind of thing is a "societal problem." But what does that mean exactly? In my view, it means that society should send the message that driving drunk is a crime even if you only get caught once.

My final concern about Happ is that she applied for a concealed carry permit. This calls into question both her judgment and understanding of gun violence in America.

No one in their right mind wants to carry a loaded firearm in public or have one around the house. The chances that you will kill or injure yourself or someone you know are far greater than that you will shoot a "bad guy." According to the Brady Campaign, a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to kill or injure a family member in a domestic argument, accident or suicide than it is to be used to stop an intruder. Wanting to carry a concealed weapon indicates a level of paranoia or poor judgment that is unfortunate in a private citizen, but in my view, absolutely disqualifying in a person who wants to be Wisconsin's top law enforcement official.

On other issues of importance, the Democratic candidates have the same positions. They each oppose Act 10, support same sex marriage, and are in favor of universal background checks to buy a gun. Happ has sought to separate herself from the others via geography and on the issue of drunk driving, and she has, maybe unintentionally, established a different profile on guns. As a liberal, in my view, none of her differences recommend her for the nomination or for the job.

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