Conservative UW-Madison professor Ryan Owens announced his bid for attorney general on Monday, becoming the second Republican to run for the seat currently held by Democrat Josh Kaul, who hasn’t yet announced his re-election bid.
Owens is a conservative UW-Madison political science professor who also serves as affiliate faculty at the UW-Madison Law School.
He said he was prompted to run for the position after being disappointed with Kaul’s handling of last summer’s civil unrest in the state’s major cities.
“I think it’s pretty clear that we’ve got a serious leadership deficit,” Owens said in an interview. “It’s turning into a freedom deficit, and that has me deeply concerned.”
Owens criticized Kaul for not doing enough during last summer’s protests and riots in order to stand on the side of police and the rule of law. He said he should have worked more closely with local law enforcement and should have more publicly denounced the rioting.
He also knocked Kaul for not doing enough to help get students back into school during the pandemic, and for not joining a multistate lawsuit that seeks to allow states to use federal stimulus dollars the way they wish, such as for tax cuts.
At least 13 other states have joined together in a lawsuit challenging the federal government on stimulus restrictions.
“My principles are such that I think we need to double down on freedom, we need to double down on safety and we need to double down on prosperity in this state, and that’s a winning message,” Owens said.
Owens has positioned his policy priorities firmly within the Republican Party, where he already faces competition for the party’s nomination. Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney announced his bid as a Republican for attorney general earlier this month, the first candidate to get into the race.
Toney criticized Kaul for advancing liberal interests. A Kaul campaign spokeswoman said Kaul has taken up issues of importance for the public, “not for the well-connected and powerful special interests.” She also said Kaul has “put public safety first.”
Toney was first elected district attorney in Fond du Lac in 2012 and is in his third term.
“I welcome Professor Owens to the race and I look forward to letting the voters hear about our records — his in the classroom and mine in the courtroom. I’m the prosecutor in the county where the Republican Party was founded in Ripon,” Toney said in a statement. “My roots run deep in the Republican Party, and law enforcement and the voters will have a clear choice in the primary.”
Owens, who holds a law degree from the UW-Madison Law School, enters the race with a decidedly different background. He currently serves as a professor of political science and also directs the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership.
Before teaching at UW-Madison, Owens served as a professor at Harvard University, worked in former Gov. Thompson’s legal office and in telecommunications litigation.
He holds a doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis.