A little over a week ago, I had a chance to sit down and chat with Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne (pictured, left), one of the two Democrats running to replace J.B. Van Hollen as Wisconsin’s Attorney General.
Ozanne and I started out our conversation with the one question every candidate for office gets asked – why he decided to run for Attorney General. Ozanne explained that his decision to run came after he was approached by others who were excited about what he could bring to the race, and as he explored the possibility of a run the response he received was positive. He added that his family taught him about the values of public service, and as a result public service is deeply ingrained in who he is. Ozanne noted he spent 13 years as a prosecutor along with 2 years in the Department of Corrections as Executive Assistant and then Deputy Secretary, experiences which he believes uniquely qualify him for Attorney General.
“As a District Attorney, I’ve worked to be tough but smart on crime,” Ozanne told me, adding that protecting the community has always been a priority for him as a prosecutor and then as District Attorney. Explaining his “tough but smart” approach to crime, Ozanne said, “If you just incarcerate people without trying to affect positive change, you’re just creating more victims.” Ozanne cited both the work he’s done in Dane County to create diversion programs and his experience with reentry programs in the Department of Corrections as examples of his approach to crime.
Citing his experience working in the Department of Corrections, Ozanne made it clear he believes his experience handling day to day operations within the Department of Correections – the largest state agency – as well as his experience dealing with the budget of that agency as experience that sets him apart from his opponents in the race.
When asked what his main focus would be if elected Attorney General, Ozanne said without hesitation, “Public safety is job number one.” Ozanne cited heroin abuse, domestic violence, internet predators, and human/sexual trafficking as issues he feels need continued focus from Wisconsin’s next Attorney General, and he added that he would emphasize collaboration between the Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies to address those issues. Ozanne also noted he believes the Attorney General needs to work to protect the vote in our state, ensure the right to choose for women, work to protect the environment, and ensure citizens have open & transparent government through enforcement of the state’s open records and open meetings laws. Ozanne also pointed out that the Wisconsin Department of Justice has no civil rights division, something he said he’d work to correct if elected.
During our conversation, I asked Ozanne to respond to Republican attacks against his record during his time in a top leadership position in the Department of Corrections, attacks that centered on the Earned Release program that allowed certain offenders to earn time off their prison sentences. Ozanne shared his belief that when dealing with crime, we absolutely need to keep communities safe but that we also need to be smarter about how those convicted of crimes are handled within the criminal justice system. Specifically, Ozanne noted that incarceration alone will not eliminate crime in our state, and that any serious approach to crime needs to work to not only punish individuals convicted of crimes, but also give those individuals opportunities to become productive citizens by addressing the issues that led to them committing their crimes.