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Our View: Van Hollen's office political? Of course
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This newspaper hasn't exactly been the biggest fan of J.B. Van Hollen's performance as Wisconsin Attorney General. On public records matters, particularly, the reviews are mixed, at best.

The Times editorial board also has supported Gov. Jim Doyle's idea to release some low-risk prison inmates early to save the state some money - while disagreeing with the governor's tactic of including the proposal in his budget plan.

Still, the complaints raised about apparent attempts by Van Hollen's office to play politics with Doyle's proposal (Times, Page A3, April 15) are a little disingenuous. As if the attorney general position isn't political!

Van Hollen certainly isn't the first attorney general to play politics in Wisconsin. The simple fact that it's an elected office politicizes it. And on matters such as the early release of state inmates, the attorney general's office not only has a right to speak its mind, but also the responsibility to taxpayers. Whether you agree with the opinion or not, the attorney general's view on releasing prisoners early is important.

So, too, are the opinions of the Wisconsin county sheriffs. Who are also elected and many of whom, it must be said, play the political game themselves by endorsing attorney general candidates.

Some sheriffs have raised concerns about questioning by a top state Justice Department official regarding the early-release proposal. The Associated Press reported Gary Hamblin, administrator of Van Hollen's Law Enforcement Services division, asked the head of the state sheriff's association for cases where offenders on probation committed another crime and went back to prison. Walworth County Sheriff David Graves, president of the Badger State Sheriff's Association, sent an e-mail to all sheriffs last months with Hamblin's question.

"If you have a 'high profile case' that would be even better," Graves said in the e-mail, The Associated Press reported.

Some sheriffs thought the request was inappropriate and political. Van Hollen has been outspoken in his opposition to the governor's proposal. The assumption is that Van Hollen's office intended to use those "high-profile cases" to make an argument against the prisoner release plan.

Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden told the AP he thinks Van Hollen's office should contact the state prison system and not talk to county sheriffs about the matter. Perhaps, but county sheriffs manage the local frontlines along with police chiefs, and would have the best perspectives on the question Hamblin was asking.

Was the request political? Certainly. Was it inappropriate? Well, no.

One point we would concede to those raising questions about Hamblin's conduct - the attorney general's office does have a responsibility to gather all of the facts, not just those that make a case against Doyle's early-release plan. That would include information about successful early-release programs, as Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney pointed out to the AP.