Kaul rips Schimel on wells, opioids, arming teachers

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel is too soft on big drug companies and polluters, his suggestion that teachers carry guns is alarming and he failed to effectively investigate abuse allegations at Wisconsin’s youth prison, Democratic challenger Josh Kaul said Friday.

Kaul made the criticisms during an interview with The Associated Press. Schimel and Kaul look destined to meet in the November general election; so far no other Democrats have entered the race.

Schimel campaign manager Matthew Dobler had no immediate comment on Kaul’s remarks.

Kaul, a former federal prosecutor who served as one of Hillary Clinton’s attorneys during Wisconsin’s 2016 presidential recount, ticked off a number of familiar Democratic themes during the interview, hitting on opioid abuse, the environment and school safety.

Kaul said opioids continue to devastate Wisconsin communities even though Schimel has said the epidemic is his top priority. He jabbed Schimel for not suing pharmaceutical companies.

Nearly 50 Wisconsin counties have filed a federal suit alleging companies precipitated the opioid problem by using deceptive marking campaigns to sell prescription painkillers. Schimel has joined a multi-state coalition investigating the companies. The attorney general has said the coalition has broader discovery powers than the counties alone and the investigation could result in a settlement without court delays.

Kaul said he would review the investigation when he took office and decide whether it’s worth continuing or if suing the companies would be a better option. He added he would shift attorneys from the Department of Justice’s solicitor general’s office to focus on prosecuting large-scale opioid traffickers and demand President Donald Trump follow through on his promise to declare opioids a national emergency.

He also ripped Schimel for brokering deals with large polluters to clean up their operations rather than hitting them with fines, calling that approach “misguided.”

“Our entire system of civil law and criminal law is based around the idea that there’s a deterrent to violating the laws,” Kaul said. “If you don’t have environmental actions that result in fines, you’ve lost that deterrent.”

Kaul took issue with a legal opinion Schimel issued in 2016, in which he said the state Department of Natural Resources lacked the authority to consider the cumulative impact high-capacity wells have on lakes, rivers and streams in the surrounding areas. The opinion dramatically reduced the DNR’s ability to oversee such wells, easing the regulatory burden for farms but outraging conservationists. Kaul called the opinion a “flawed” effort to benefit special interest groups.

School safety weighs heavily on his mind, Kaul said.

He noted that his son will soon be a kindergartner and he’ll have to go through school shooter drills. Schimel said last month he would be open to arming teachers and having DOJ train them, an idea Kaul called alarming.

“Putting guns in the hands of teachers creates a danger that isn’t present now,” he said.

He pledged to leave Wisconsin’s concealed carry program alone but said lawmakers need to pass universal background checks, ban bump stocks and establish extreme-risk protection orders, which force people to surrender their guns to police if a judge determines they pose a threat.

He took Schimel to task for not devoting more resources to investigating allegations of prisoner abuse at the state’s youth prison outside Irma.

Former Wisconsin prisons secretary Ed Wall said in November that he asked the DOJ in early 2015 to investigate but the agency initially assigned only two agents on a part-time basis to the case. The FBI took over the probe at the end of 2015. Federal officials said the investigation is still ongoing.

Kaul said there was no reason for the DOJ to step aside.
Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1