Ismael Ozanne finished third in the Democratic primary for the Wisconsin Attorney General seat, finishing with 15.4% of the vote.
Although he came in last in the three-way Democratic primary for attorney general, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne says he would not have done anything differently. And that includes his choice of companion while logging 30,000 miles around Wisconsin.
"One of the most special and sort of battery-charging things about this campaign was being able to go with my mother, who was in 1964, the youngest member of SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], at 17, going through Mississippi, registering people to vote, risking her life," Ozanne told the some 40 close friends, family and supporters who gathered Tuesday night in a banquet room at the Madison Concourse Hotel.
Ozanne's mother, decked out in an 'Ismael Ozanne for Attorney General' t-shirt, took the cue and began singing ‘We Shall Overcome.' It didn't take long for others to join Gwen Gillon in a few verses, including her son. She concluded by saying, "Keep the right to vote."
Continued Ozanne: "My mom risked her life, people gave their lives, and people were beaten within an inch of their lives so that people could vote. Yet today it's like pulling teeth to get people to exercise that most essential right."
State election officials had predicted a low turnout of about 15% of eligible voters for Tuesday's primary election. But even fewer showed up to the polls, with preliminary results showing about a 10% turnout.
With 100% of precincts reporting, Susan Happ, the Jefferson County district attorney, received 52.1% of the statewide vote, while state Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) pulled in 32.5% and Ozanne finished with 15.4%. Ozanne did do better in his home county, nabbing 30.4% of the vote, while Richards got 21.6% and Happ received 47.9%.
Happ will now face Republican nominee Brad Schimel, Waukesha County's district attorney, in the Nov. 4 general election. Schimel did not have a primary opponent.
Ozanne threw his support behind Happ and the rest of the Democratic ticket during his concession speech.
"We have to push this state forward, and that means we have to make sure Democrats take this seat, and take the governor's office," Ozanne said. "We can no longer move backward, we can no longer have voter suppression, we can no longer have an attack on women, and it has to start now."
Ozanne also urged his supporters to help educate others about the importance of voting and exercising their rights. "We have to take it upon ourselves to do the job that needs to be done so people can be educated and vote."
Next steps for Ozanne
Ozanne was appointed Dane County district attorney by former Gov. Jim Doyle in 2010. In 2012 Ozanne was re-elected. Before that he spent about a decade as a prosecutor in the Dane County District Attorney's Office and also worked in the Department of Corrections under Doyle.
Ozanne received statewide notice in 2011 when he filed a lawsuit arguing that lawmakers had violated the state's open meetings law in passing Gov. Scott Walker's law eliminating collective bargaining rights for most public employees. He convinced a Dane County judge but lost before the state Supreme Court.
As for what he'll do next, Ozanne says he will take a nap, play with his kids and have dinner with his wife. And he will continue on as Dane County district attorney.
"I run the second largest county's DA's office, we've got a ton of stuff going on here, we'll definitely be moving this county forward and hopefully the state with it," Ozanne said in a post-party interview.
According to Ozanne, running in this race confirmed the direction he was taking as district attorney. "It really helped me realize that what we are doing here is the right thing to do, I would love to be able to share that with the rest of the state, so we'll just look to keep moving forward and doing the best we can," says Ozanne. "So you know, you definitely haven't seen the last of me."
Happ said in a news release that her victory proves Wisconsin voters are ready for a different kind of attorney general. "I'm proud that my message of protecting our families, tackling our heroin epidemic head on, and putting sex offenders and domestic abusers behind bars where they belong has resonated with voters across Wisconsin."
Schimel has a significant fundraising edge on Happ going into the general election. As of his August 4 pre-primary financial report (PDF), Schimel had raised more than $420,000. Happ has raised about half as much, according to her updated, August 4, pre-primary finance report (PDF), setting her war chest at just over $210,000.
Dane County Board Sup. Tim Kiefer, who endorsed Ozanne, says Happ's win came down to "electability."
"All three candidates were well qualified, but Happ was unique in that she was the only candidate with a track record of winning in a largely Republican county," he says. "In addition, Happ has experience as a prosecutor, which differentiated her from second place finisher Jon Richards."
Kiefer noted that in the 2006 attorney general's race, J.B. Van Hollen narrowly defeated former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk because of Falk's relative lack of experience as a prosecutor. "I think that Democrats wanted to avoid a repeat of that experience."
"I think Democrats really want to put the most electable candidates forward in November and Happ's winning argument was that she has the best chance to win in November." Kiefer added. He also noted that Happ ran a well-organized campaign.
"For example, although I had publicly endorsed Ismael Ozanne early in the campaign, Happ called me multiple times just to check in and to remind me that she was in the race. Although I continued to support Ozanne, I was impressed with Happ's tenacity and hard work."