MILWAUKEE — During a recent round table discussion in Milwaukee with mostly Republican supporters, Ryan Owens got an earful about mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccines.
"It kills me to see business shut down, people lose their jobs, when it probably didn't have to be that way," said Owens.
The Republican attorney general candidate blames Democrats for what he sees as a constitutional overreach on mask mandates and mixed messages on the benefits of getting vaccinated.
Owns and his wife did get the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson shot.
"From our perspective, we've gotten vaccinated, we are past this," said Owens. "We go outside, people say: 'Can you put your masks on?' We're vaccinated, leave us alone. We are trying to live our lives."
After our interview with Owens, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky updated the mask policy on Tuesday saying anyone fully vaccinated against the coronavirus can safely attend small outdoor gatherings or dine at an outdoor restaurant without face coverings. But she said masks should still be worn at large events like sporting events due to the "inability to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated people."
The state attorney general's job is to provide legal advice to state government and oversee the justice department, which was the lead agency investigating the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.
In that case, the district attorney cleared the officer - no charges. Owens says the solution to police reform is more data and dialogue. "Law enforcement will know that they will have a seat at the table with me if I'm elected attorney general," Owens said.
Recent mass shootings - including the Kenosha County bar shooting this month that killed three and injured three - have renewed calls for gun reform.
Owens does not see it as a gun issue, but more of a cultural and mental health issue.
Democrats, including Attorney General Josh Kaul, are calling for a red flag law. It would allow a judge to remove a weapon from a person who has been found to be a danger to themselves or others. Owens is not a fan.
"I think people are worried that the implementation of those can be haphazard, " said Owens, "and keep rights away from people who otherwise might have them."
Owens is a political newcomer, with more time in the classroom than in the courtroom as a conservative professor at UW Madison.
Charles Benson: "What experience do you bring to the attorney general's race?"
Owens: "Look, what I am is a constitutional lawyer and a professor."
The 2018 attorney general race that put Kaul in office was decided by less than one percent. Kaul won with 49.41% of the vote over Republican Brad Schimel, with 48.76%.
"The issues that are relevant to people right now in this state are issues of freedom, safety and prosperity," said Owens, "and I bring a unique background to that."
Kaul's campaign declined to comment for our story, but earlier this month his campaign team put out a statement saying, "As attorney general, Josh Kaul has put public safety first... and advocated for the strongest budget for the criminal justice system in decades."
Republican Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney is also running for attorney general. He talked about his courtroom experience when he entered the race this month. "As a front-line prosecutor, it’s critical we have an attorney general who has personal experience fighting crime in Wisconsin and who will support our law enforcement," Toney said.
The 2022 GOP primary is Aug. 9, and the general election is Nov. 8.