The November battle for who will become Colorado’s next attorney general has widespread implications for the state, from the future of cities, like Denver, that have so-called “sanctuary policies” toward immigrants in the U.S. illegally, to oil and gas regulations.
That’s not to mention how the race could decide the way in which Colorado squares — or doesn’t — with President Donald Trump and his administration.
The two candidates duking it out for the job couldn’t have more different backgrounds: 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, a Republican who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooting gunman, and former University of Colorado Law School dean Phil Weiser, a Democrat who worked in the Obama administration’s Justice Department.
Colorado has not had a Democratic attorney general since Ken Salazar, the former U.S. senator and Interior secretary, held the post from 1999 to 2005.
Current Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, is leaving her post after one term. She made a bid for governor, but did not make the primary ballot.
So here is where Brauchler and Weiser stand on some of the most pressing national and Colorado issues:
On Donald Trump
Brauchler says he has mixed feelings about Trump. He likes some of the president’s policies but is concerned by his disposition.
“There are some substantive things that he has done that I’m in support of: the tax cut, Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice, the emphasis on the United States coming out on top of these trade deals,” Brauchler said, noting that he voted for for Trump in the 2016 election. “He’s done things that I don’t agree with. I don’t agree with the tariffs, the trade war with our allies. I don’t agree with the approach he has taken — at least superficially — with Russia at the expense of our traditional allies.”
But Brauchler says what troubles him most about Trump is his demeanor.
“The part that’s the most challenging is just the packaging,” he said. “I get it, I have respect for the office of the presidency. But some of the fights that he picks that aren’t about government, like Lonzo Ball’s dad. Some of those things you’re just like, ‘I don’t know why you are involved.’ ”
Weiser has said one of the prime reasons he decided to run for attorney general was Donald Trump’s election.
He is positioning himself as Colorado’s check on the White House. Weiser has said that, if elected, he would join other Democratic attorneys general in lawsuits challenging the Trump administration.
“I think we’ve got to get through this period in our nation,” he said. “I believe the rule of law has to be our true north. Checks and balances are part of what our constitutional scheme is about. Without Congress being an effective check, the states really are where it’s at right now. I’m committed to protecting Colorado.”
On oil and gas/Proposition 112
Brauchler says he is an advocate of an all-of-the-above energy generation portfolio, including wind, solar and oil and gas, for Colorado, but he’s worried about Proposition 112, which would increase oil and gas setbacks to 2,500 feet.
“If we have these particular 2,500-foot setbacks as a result of this initiative, oil and gas will disappear — almost overnight — from this state,” he said. “If this initiative passes, the devastation to these communities and this economy will be quickly felt. If it’s an amendment to the constitution and the people pass it, you can count on this guy to defend it even if I disagree with it. But I disagree with it.”
He said the key is finding the middle ground between conservation and protecting the environment and having cheap, reliable energy.
Weiser said he plans to vote against Proposition 112.
“As for this initiative, I’ve got some concerns about how it would play out in practice,” he said. “And I understand where the concern is coming from.”
But Weiser said he is committed to protecting Colorado’s land, air and water if elected attorney general.
“I’ve sat with parents who’ve said, ‘My child goes a school near oil and gas drilling that is hundreds of feet away, and there’s smoke sometimes, or there’s lots of noise,’ ” Weiser said.
He has blasted the way Cynthia Coffman, Colorado’s current attorney general, has handled oil and gas conflicts in the state (like suing Boulder County over its moratorium on drilling), and said he would take a much different route. Weiser has vowed to drop an appeal of a ruling in what’s known as the Martinez case, which requires oil and gas regulators to consider public health and the environment before allowing new drilling.
On sanctuary cities and immigration
Brauchler sees sanctuary cities and sanctuary policies as problematic because of the way they conflict with federal law.
“Sanctuary cities are a violation of the rule of law. We’re going to have an attorney general who upholds the rule of law,” Brauchler said. “… Whether we agree or disagree with the federal immigration law, one thing that we cannot do is to use the power of the state to encourage other cities to try and figure out a way to thwart the enforcement of that law.”
He added that “I don’t want our men and women in uniform, who we pay tax money to, to become arms of immigration or any other federal agency — I won’t do it.”
However Brauchler says that when immigrants in the U.S. illegally come to places like Denver, where there are policies barring local police from aiding federal immigration agents, they also go to other surrounding communities that might not agree with Denver’s stance on immigration.
“As much as we want to think every one of them is just here to be hard working, we know that’s not true,” Brauchler said.
Weiser says sanctuary policies are a way to boost a community’s public safety by ensuring that people living in the country illegally are confident that they can report to local authorities, without worrying that they could face deportation for doing so.
“Public safety requires that whether or not we have proper documentation, if you are a victim of a crime, or if you are a witness to a crime, the public needs you to come forward to testify,” Weiser said. “If someone’s afraid to testify because they are afraid the court will turn them over to the Department of Homeland Security to be deported, they are not going to testify and we’re less safe from rapists, from robbers. That’s the commitment Denver made in a policy and as attorney general I will defend Denver’s right to do that.”
Weiser said family separations under the Trump administration at the U.S.-Mexico border were unconstitutional.
“Do you know why those kids are getting reunited? Because state (attorneys general) from other states have said, ‘This is wrong, this is illegal — I’ll fight against it,’ ” Weiser added. “I’ll be an attorney general who will fight for the legal and fair treatment of all immigrants.”
On legalized marijuana
Brauchler says he is committed to upholding Colorado’s recreational marijuana law and enforcing the spirit of it and will “protect us from the negative aspects of it, and you have to believe there are negative aspects of it.”
“I was opposed to Amendment 64,” Brauchler said. “I didn’t want it in our constitution. If we were going to do something to legalize it, we should have made it a statute where it was more flexible, right? But we didn’t. I also didn’t want to be the first state … to try this experiment. I was really hoping it would just be Washington state and we could watch them trip all over themselves and figure out how not to do what they did.”
He said the tax revenue related to cannabis sales is a boon, but that crime connected to pot has not gone away, pointing to illegal marijuana grows in homes in his jurisdiction and recent murder cases linked to cannabis.
“We have not figured out legal marijuana,” Brauchler said. “We have not figured out regulated marijuana.”
Weiser touts the legalization of recreational marijuana as a progressive decision made by Coloradans.
“We took an important step to reform criminal justice,” he said. “We used to put people in jail who bought and smoked marijuana. We don’t do that anymore.”
He touted the use of marijuana tax revenue for college scholarships in Pueblo County and mental health treatment in Eagle County.
“We do need to address the concerns — the black market, concerns about crime linked to it,” Weiser said. “We need to make sure we regulate it effectively so we keep it away from kids. But from the pluses and minuses, I see this as a pretty clear-cut issue. We are a national innovator.”
MORE: For more politics coverage from The Colorado Sun, visit coloradosun.com/category/news/politics/.
On the death penalty
He is a proponent of capital punishment and has brought several death penalty cases during his time as the 18th Judicial District’s top prosecutor. That includes the prosecution of the Aurora theater shooting gunman, James Holmes.
A jury ultimately decided against sentencing Holmes to death. He is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
He opposes the death penalty, but says it is his duty to uphold the state’s laws and thus would defend it in court.
On preventing mass shootings/guns
“I’ve had the opportunity to explore these shooters, I’ve had the opportunity to hold them accountable, I’ve had the opportunity look at the laws in place — what can be done better,” Brauchler said. “… The status quo is not acceptable and you should demand to know that answer from every single official that stands before you. If they tell you that the status quo is fine, not only are we not on the same page, we’re not on the same planet.”
He advocated for a so-called “red-flag” bill at the Colorado legislature in 2018, which would have allowed courts to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed an imminent threat to themselves or others. The legislation was unsuccessful, and Brauchler faced blowback from other conservatives, specifically the hard-line Rocky Mountain Gun Owners group, for supporting the measure.
(Brauchler says the legislation and idea aren’t perfect and that he has concerns about the red-flag measure, but that it’s a good start.)
Brauchler says he has mixed feelings about regulations passed by Colorado lawmakers in 2013 that expanded background checks for people purchasing firearms and limited magazine capacity to 15 rounds.
“Do I think that the background checks have played a role in keeping handguns or firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them? Yeah, I do,” Brauchler said. “I also think it has resulted in mistakes, documented mistakes, where people are denied the ability to purchases firearms because of inaccurate information.”
As for the limitations on magazines?
“It would have made no difference to the outcome of the Aurora theater case,” he said. “I don’t think you can point to a case yet where it has.”
Weiser is a fan of the gun laws passed by state lawmakers in 2013 and says the defense of those statutes is one of the reasons electing a Democrat attorney general is so important.
“We in Colorado passed common-sense gun laws requiring a background check — an important protection,” Weiser said. “It’s up to the attorney general to defend that protection against the NRA, who wants it to be declared unconstitutional. We also need to improve our laws.”
He is calling for a red-flag law, like Brauchler, but also a ban on so-called bump stocks and other restrictions on military- or assault-style weapons.
The general election will be held on Nov. 6. Ballots will be mailed out starting on Oct. 15.
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