Republican law professor from UW announces attorney general run

University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Ryan Owens announced Monday that he will run for attorney general, becoming the second Republican to enter the race against incumbent Democrat Josh Kaul.

Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney announced a run for attorney general earlier this month. The primary is over a year away on Aug. 9, 2022. Kaul was first elected in 2018.

Toney welcomed Owens to the race and immediately drew a contrast between Owens' role as a law school professor against his as a prosecutor.

"I look forward to letting the voters hear about our records — his in the classroom and mine in the courtroom fighting crime," Toney said in an email. "I’m the prosecutor in the county where the Republican Party was founded in Ripon. My roots run deep in the Republican Party, and law enforcement and the voters will have a clear choice in the primary."

Owens said in a statement announcing his candidacy that Kaul puts his political goals ahead of "freedom, safety, and prosperity."

Pressed for examples in a follow-up email, Owens said Kaul should have joined a lawsuit that Ohio’s Republican attorney general, Dave Yost, filed in March challenging provisions in the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that prohibit states from using the money to cover tax reductions. Owens also pointed to briefs Kaul filed last year in supporting a Dane County order to start school online.

Kaul’s campaign manager, Sondra Milkie, did not directly address Owens’ criticism when asked for reaction.

"Attorney General Josh Kaul has led on critical public safety issues, from working to address gun violence and make our schools safer, to fighting the opioid epidemic, to strengthening Wisconsin’s response to sexual assault," Milkie said. "He’s stood up for public health and access to affordable health care and worked to protect clean water."

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Owens serves as a political science professor and an affiliate faculty member at UW-Madison's law school. He's also been the director of the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership since it was created in 2017, but he's stepping down at the end of the current academic year. The center brings speakers to campus and hosts conferences on a variety of public policy topics, with a focus on promoting public leadership and good governance.

Owens holds a doctorate in political science from Washington University-St. Louis and a law degree from UW-Madison. Owens served one year as Thompson’s extraditions assistant when Thompson was governor in 1998 and 1999. He taught at Harvard's law school from 2008 to 2011.


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