Van Hollen says Wisconsin Supreme Court bid unlikely, AG terms left him frustrated with media

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MADISON, Wisconsin — Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says he's probably done with serving as an elected official for a while.

Van Hollen, a Republican, has served as attorney general since 2006 but unexpectedly decided not to run for a third term. While some have speculated he may run for the Wisconsin Supreme Court this spring, Van Hollen told The Associated Press this week that he will not.

"I think it's time to take a break from elected office," Van Hollen said in an interview in which he also reflected on his eight-year tenure. "But I never foreclose the possibility of running for something again. I'll stay active. If that means someday maybe running for something, you never know."

Van Hollen is set to leave office when Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, a Republican, is sworn in as Wisconsin's next attorney general on Jan. 5.

Van Hollen, a former U.S. attorney, said he's not burned out, but he's grown tired of the media assuming every elected official is corrupt and of being second-guessed.

"Ever since Watergate most reporters think they're Woodward and Bernstein. And that's troubling to me. When a reporter comes into a meeting or goes into an article assuming that the elected official's acting with a bad interest, that's not necessarily doing justice and reporting the news to the general public," Van Hollen said. "You have to constantly explain yourself. Doing all that certainly can get tiring."

Still, Van Hollen said he accomplished everything he wanted to do. The state Department of Justice has provided more training for local police to stop online child pornography, his administration eliminated a staggering backlog of evidence waiting for DNA testing at the state crime lab during his first term and he remained committed to his philosophy of defending the law regardless of partisan background, he said.

His philosophy notwithstanding, Van Hollen took heat from Democrats for championing a host of hot-button Republican laws, particularly during his second term. Some of the more contentious measures he defended included laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls and abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals as well as Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage. Van Hollen ultimately lost that case but not before pursuing it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Assembly Minority Speaker Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Van Hollen started out even-handed but grew more partisan, filing "frivolous and costly hyper-partisan" actions.

"Unfortunately, in his second term, Attorney General Van Hollen worked in lockstep with Republicans in power to defend legislators," Barca said.

Van Hollen said the attorney general's job is to defend state laws. If he chose not to engage, the governor or the Legislature would have had to hire private attorneys, he said. He also noted Republicans have controlled state government, so naturally the laws he defended were GOP measures.

"Our job," Van Hollen said, "was to focus on the rule of law and focus on helping law enforcement do their jobs."

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