MADISON, Wis. — Republican Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel conceded defeat Monday to Democrat Josh Kaul, saying the margin between them is too great to overcome through a recount.
Schimel's decision makes Kaul the first Democratic attorney general in Wisconsin since his mother, Peg Lautenschlager, left office in 2007.
The Associated Press did not call the attorney general's race on Election Day because it was too close. Schimel said the next day that it appeared Kaul had beat him but refused to concede, leaving open the possibility that he would seek a recount. State elections officials announced Friday that canvassed totals show Kaul got 17,190 more votes. That's within the 1 percentage point margin that would allow for a recount but Schimel would have had to pay for it.
Schimel issued a statement saying he believes he could have raised the money to fund the recount but the margin is too large.
"We felt the odds of finding enough votes were too narrow to justify putting county clerks, their staff and the public through such an ordeal at this time," Schimel said. "I accept the verdict of the electorate."
Kaul issued a statement thanking Schimel for his service.
"As your AG, I will be an advocate for all Wisconsinites," Kaul said.
Schimel served one term, succeeding two-term Republican J.B. Van Hollen. Lautenschlager held the office from 2002 until 2007.
Kaul enters office with an ambitious to-do list. One of his top priorities is to work with Gov.-elect Tony Evers to withdraw Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.
He has also sounded a warning to polluters, saying he will be much tougher on them than Schimel, who took criticism for reaching deals with polluters rather than hitting them with fines. Kaul wants to shift positions from the Department of Justice's solicitor general's office to environmental protection and instill a policy to "serious and even-handedly enforce our environmental laws."
He will also have to grapple with Schimel's legal opinion that the Department of Natural Resources can't consider the overall impact of high-capacity wells. A Madison judge ruled the DNR must consider the overall effect but the state is appealing the decision. Kaul said he would work with whoever Evers appoints as DNR secretary on whether to continue the appeal.
He has called for holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for fostering opioid abuse. A number of states have sued the industry but Schimel opted to join a multi-state investigation into the companies' marketing practice rather than sue. Kaul has pledged to review the investigation's progress and if it's moving too slowly consider a lawsuit, saying it could result in a windfall settlement that could fund treatment for addicts.
He also wants DOJ to focus on high-level drug traffickers and advocates legalizing medical marijuana in hopes of reducing prescriptions for opioid-based painkillers.
One of his first concrete tasks, though, will be fashioning the DOJ's 2019-2021 budget request and trying to shepherd it through a Republican-controlled Legislature.
His most glaring need is more DNA analysts at the state crime lab to reduce testing delays. But there's already friction; Kaul told The Associated Press in an interview after the election that he's not pleased with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's plans to curtail Evers' powers in a final lame-duck legislative session before Republican Gov. Scott Walker leaves office.