Scott Hassett says as state attorney general he would be “the people’s lawyer.”
Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from 2003-07, Hassett is currently a candidate for attorney general. He is challenging the Republican incumbent J.B. Van Hollen.
He recently visited Waupaca and spoke with the County Post about his past experience and future goals if elected to the state’s top law enforcement post.
Prior to leading the DNR, Hassett was a trial lawyer who handled civil and criminal cases in state and federal courts for 22 years. He was a partner in Lawton & Cates in Madison, where he was involved in environmental, civil rights and labor cases.
As head of the DNR, Hassett managed 2,700 employees and a $500 million budget. He points to the progress the DNR made during his tenure in cleaning up the Fox River Watershed, eliminating the backlog in permits and acquiring nearly 200,000 acres of land and easements for conservation and recreation.
“The DNR is one of the largest law enforcement forces in the state,” Hassett said. “The DNR’s law enforcement division alone is about the same size as the entire Justice Department.”
Hassett said that one reason he is running for attorney general is that he believes Van Hollen has politicized the office.
“He is a career politician who has used and abused that agency for partisan politics,” Hassett said.
Hassett pointed to Van Hollen’s suit against Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, filed in September 2008.
The suit alleged that GAB was violating the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) by refusing to retroactively run database matches on voters who registered before Wisconsin’s database had the capacity to perform database matching.
Earlier, GAB had rejected a proposed amendment to its rules that would have required all voters without a “HAVA match” to vote on provisional ballots if they did not present proof of residence at the polls. The provisional ballots would have been counted only if voters presented proof of residence to election officials by the day after the election.
GAB rejected the proposed rules because they were not required by HAVA and could result in up to 22 percent of Wisconsin voters not having their votes not counted in the 2008 election.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi dismissed Van Hollen’s case on the grounds that HAVA does not require a voter’s eligibility to be determined by a database match. She concluded that denying a citizen’s right to vote because of a typo violated the Voting Rights Act.
“The GAB lawsuit was nothing more than a national Republican strategy designed to suppress votes in urban areas,” Hassett said. “Van Hollen bragged he was going to do just that at the Republican National Convention.”
Hassett said GAB reported that out of 3 million votes cast in the November 2008 election in Wisconsin there were only six complaints of voter fraud that resulted in court action.
Hassett said Van Hollen continues to use his office to pursue a political agenda.
“This year, the federal government passed health care reform. It’s the most monumental legislation since Social Security and Medicare were enacted,” Hassett said. “Van Hollen attempted to join a dozen other Republican attorney generals to stop the law. But he couldn’t get permission from either the governor or the Legislature. What business does the state attorney general have in engaging in that kind of litigation?”
Hassett also noted that prior to his attempt to join the lawsuit against health care reform, Van Hollen’s office had contact with a GOP political consultant in Texas.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel obtained e-mails between Van Hollen’s deputy, Ray Taffora, and Ben Cannatti, a Republican consultant in Austin. Taffora was seeking information on the lawsuit from another state attorney general’s office and Cannatti gave him a contact person in South Carolina.
“He tried to sue the United States in order to stop health care reform in Wisconsin,” Hassett said. “Fortunately, he was stopped in his tracks.”
Hassett said he would not use his authority as attorney general to pursue a partisan agenda.
“As attorney general, I will focus on public safety, protecting consumers and standing up to polluters,” Van Hollen said.