Lautenschlager, 1st female Wisconsin attorney general, dies

Published: Mar. 31, 2018 at 9:12 AM CDT
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Wisconsin's current and former governors, as well as other political and community leaders, are reacting to the death of former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. She had been diagnosed with cancer.

Her husband Bill Rippl said she died early Saturday surrounded by family at their home in Fond du Lac. She was 62.

Former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle issued the following statement via email to NBC15 Saturday morning:

"I am saddened to learn of Peg's passing. She devoted her life, and remarkable talents, to public service. She was a trailblazer and a champion for the people of Wisconsin, a state she loved."

Lautenschlager made history when she was elected as the first female Attorney General in Wisconsin history in 2002. In July 2016, she was appointed as the first commissioner of the newly formed Ethics Commission, a position from which she resigned shortly before her son, Josh Kaul, announced his plans to run for Attorney General.

Friends and colleagues say she will be remembered as a trailblazer for women's rights and progressive policy.

"Peg was progressive before it was cool, and Peg was progressive when it counted the most," said Lautenschlager's longtime friend, John 'Sly' Sylvester.

"What people don't know was that Peg lived in a Republican area," said Sylvester.

"She was a progressive Democrat who lived in a Republican area, and she got Republicans to vote for her," he said.

Sylvester said she was an example of someone who was an established career woman as well as present caregiver.

"She'll be remembered as someone who balanced all that by being a really good mom and still volunteering for different local activities," Sylvester said, "and really, for the last 13 years she did it with really bad cancer, through different periods of remission."

Scot Ross, once Lautenschlager's campaign Communications Director, said Lautenschlager was known for being a progressive liberal.

"Peg's legacy is going to be that there are people out there who will stand up for the little person. That's something that she always did. Peg was fighting for things like voting rights back in the early 2000s when people were still cal-towing and saying that there was massive voter fraud. Peg was out there fighting for people's access to the ballot box," Ross told NBC15.

One way to honor her legacy, Ross said, is to head to the polls.

"Peg would tell you to go out and vote," he said.

"What I'll remember most about her is that she felt as comfortable at a plant gate with blue collar workers as she did with some of the top scholars in the state," said Sylvester. "In fact, I think she preferred to be with the blue collar workers."

Governor Scott Walker released the following statement after learning of Lautenschlager's passing:

"Tonette and I are saddened to learn of the passing of Peg Lautenschlager. She was a dedicated and passionate public servant who became the first woman elected to serve as attorney general in Wisconsin history. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family during this time."

Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) released the following statement early Saturday morning:

“It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of my friend, Peg Lautenschlager. Peg was a friend, mentor and an inspiring public servant who never lost sight of her advocacy for the people. Her strength, tenacity, and kindness were evident in her nearly 30 years of public service. She worked tirelessly for the people of northeast Wisconsin and then all of Wisconsin, and championed our values.

“Apparently I knew Peg since I was a toddler, because she reminded me and everyone else in the room every single time we were together. As a friend, Peg always took the time to listen and provide feedback and was the same person in public as she was in private. Peg was so down-to-earth and real, it could be easy for some to overlook how brilliant she was. I will carry with me the lessons I learned from Peg throughout my career. Wisconsin has lost a giant and she will be dearly missed. My deepest condolences to her family during this difficult time.”

Lautenschlager had served as district attorney in Winnebago County, a Democratic state representative and a U.S. attorney in Madison before she won election as attorney general in 2002. She was defeated in a primary in 2006, two years after being cited for drunken driving after she drove her state car into a ditch.

Current Attorney General Brad Schimel also remembered Lautenschlager:

“I did not know Peg well but many of the team members at the Wisconsin Department of Justice did, so I have learned more about her. Peg was passionate about her beliefs, cared deeply about her colleagues, and adored her family. I appreciate her many decades of public service and commitment to Wisconsin. She hired many of the fine public servants who now work at DOJ on behalf of the people of Wisconsin and her dedication lives on through their daily work.

“My sympathies and prayers go out to Peg’s family, friends, and colleagues.”

Lautenschlager was elected to the state Assembly in 1989 and appointed U.S. Attorney for the Western District of the state in 1993. In 1993, she gave then U.S. Rep. Tom Petri the closest race of his career; Petri won re-election by six points.

Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) issued the following statement:

“It is with a heavy heart that I learned of the passing of Peg. She was a trailblazer for many women in Wisconsin politics, a loyal friend and true blue Democrat. Peg was a trusted political mentor to many and was always willing to lend her insight, advice and enthusiasm to friends and family across the state.

“Peg served her community and state well, from her time as Winnebago District Attorney to her most recent position as Chair of the Wisconsin Ethics Commission. Peg loved good policy, better outcomes, great stories and spending time in the company of her many friends and family. My deepest condolences to her husband Bill and their children.”

 “Today we say farewell today to one of Wisconsin’s most dedicated grassroots progressives, for whom no work was too small or too big in her fight for justice, fairness and opportunity for all Wisconsinites. With great intellect, humor and compassion, Peg Lautenschlager served her neighbors, her home community of Fond du Lac and all of our state as our first woman to be elected Attorney General. 

“Last fall I was honored to present Peg with a lifetime achievement award for all the numerous ways she has served the people of our state--from her start as an attorney combating domestic abuse to her trailblazing roles in state government to her tireless advocacy for workers’ rights and government ethics, among so many other causes. Our theme for the October event where she received that award was “imagination, integrity and courage,” as these are virtues Peg Lautenschlager exemplified her entire career. She will be so fondly remembered and deeply missed.” - Martha Laning, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair 


“Our dear friend Peg Lautenschlager made protecting people her life’s work. Peg was progressive before it was cool and Peg was progressive when it actually mattered. When other prosecutors treated the rich and powerful with kid gloves, as U.S. Attorney, Peg’s white collar sentences were the toughest in the nation. Peg fought to keep our streets safe from crime and to protect our liberty from encroachment. Peg fought for clean air and water and ensuring the rights of workers. Peg fought for consumers and for public integrity in government. Peg fought to promote access to the ballot box and to preserve access to health care. Peg defended our civil rights and fought for equality for us all. Peg was always a trailblazer and a warrior. Peg was a friend, a teacher and a mentor to a generation of young Wisconsin progressives and we owe her nothing less than to fight even a fraction as hard and relentlessly for fairness, decency and equality as she did.”   - Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director, he served as Lautenschlager’s communications director in her successful race for Attorney General in 2002 and in the office of the Attorney General in 2005.

"I’m saddened by the news of Peg Lautenschlager’s passing. While we may not have always agreed politically, Peg was a passionate advocate for Wisconsin during her 30 years serving our state. Our prayers are with her family during this time.” - Brad Courtney, Chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin
"As news circulated this morning that former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager died, I was saddened but also struck remembering how much progress she made for women in Wisconsin. Much of the news regarding her passing this morning has remembered her as being the first woman elected to AG in Wisconsin, but that was not her first time breaking barriers. Peg was the first woman to serve as the Winnebago District Attorney. After which point, she went on to serve as the US Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, nominated by President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the Senate. But likely her most lasting contribution that I will remember is her tireless effort to advocate for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. That was how she began her career in private practice in Oshkosh and it was the work that she carried with her throughout her time in public service. Though Wisconsin’s legal and advocacy community lost a dear friend today, I am certain that her work will continue to inspire folks who do the often heartbreaking work of defending and fighting for women and children who have survived abuse or assault."   - Rep. Dana Wachs, democratic