BY FREDA MIKLIN
On Oct. 3, the Federalist Society hosted a lively debate at the Hyatt Regency Denver between Colorado attorney general candidates Republican 18th Judicial district attorney George Brauchler and Democrat Phil Weiser, former dean of the CU law school and clerk for two U.S. Supreme Court judges. CBS affiliate Channel 4’s political specialist Shaun Boyd moderated.
18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler brought his strong criminal prosecutor experience to the AG debate.
Asked why the attorney general is elected, rather than appointed, Brauchler said, “If you’re appointed, you would feel beholden to the person who appointed you. By being elected, your allegiance is only to the people.” Weiser took that idea a step further, alluding to his position on several other issues, saying, “This underscores the discretion of the attorney general (AG). Does the AG protect women’s reproductive rights, discrimination laws and consumers? Do you sue pharmaceutical companies who sell opioids or polluters of our air and water? If the AG doesn’t believe in those things, he may not go after violators of citizens’ or consumer rights.”
Boyd asked if there are any current Colorado laws that either candidate would not defend? Weiser said, “Only a law that is unconstitutional. None that I know of today.” Brauchler echoed that opinion, adding, “I would not be an activist.”
The next issue the candidates tackled was when the AG should sue the federal government. Weiser said, “I chose to run for this office to protect the people of Colorado. If the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not protected or “Dreamers” are not protected, it is the AG’s job to act. Banning a person from entering this country due to his religion is illegal. If the federal government breaks the law, I will petition a court on behalf of the people.” Brauchler reacted, “That feels pretty activist, being the one to decide what is important.” Still, he said, “I would push back against (U.S. Attorney General) Jeff Sessions if the federal government tried to override the voters who made medical marijuana legal.”
CBS News affiliate Channel 4 political specialist Shaun Boyd asked the questions provided by the Federalist Society.
Things got a little heated when the subject of when the AG should sue was explored. Weiser criticized the current AG’s (Cynthia Coffman) suit against Boulder county, saying she initiated it “without even picking up a phone.” He said his commitment is to “lead by seeking collaboration and only sue if absolutely necessary.” When asked to specify lawsuits by the state that they would continue or initiate, Weiser again raised the ACA. He said that if the federal government doesn’t protect Coloradans’ rights for coverage of pre-existing conditions, he would. Brauchler responded, “I don’t think it’s the AG’s job to protect the legacy of any president.”
Weiser also said, “I’d fight to protect Bears Ears.” Bears Ears National Monument is located in southeastern Utah, established by presidential proclamation Dec. 26, 2016, as President Obama was leaving office. Its original size was 1.3million acres, which was reduced 85 percent by President Trump to 201,876 acres Dec. 4, 2017. Brauchler responded, “What standing do you have to protect Bears Ears? It’s not even in Colorado.”
There was also a difference in the candidates’ approach to advising state agencies in applying statutes that were not clear. Weiser said, “I’d interpret a statute with an eye to how it affects the people of Colorado. I won’t use the “This is the way we’ve always done it,” standard. Brauchler took a longer view, saying, “History matters in interpreting laws.”
In addition to representing different major political parties, the most significant difference between the candidates is their background.
CU law school dean and former clerk to the U.S. Supreme Court Phil Weiser brought his strong administrative law experience to the debate.
Brauchler has been the district attorney of the 18th Judicial District, which includes nearly 1 million people, for seven years. Before that, he served as a prosecutor for state and federal government, as well as the military (he was chief of military justice for Fort Carson, the 4th Infantry Division, and the U.S. Division North in Iraq). Brauchler is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Weiser’s first job out of law school was to clerk for Judge David Ebel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. After that, he clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He later served in the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, oversaw the Federal Trade Commission, and served on Obama’s transition team. Weiser returned to Colorado, where he became a professor at the CU law school and then its dean.
When Shaun Boyd asked what types of criminal activity in Colorado should be viewed as crucial to the AG, the candidates approached the subject differently. Brauchler talked about “crimes that are burgeoning around the state where local prosecutors don’t have enough resources.” He said, “Methamphetamine and heroin are exploding around poor counties like Huerfano. I’d put regional offices around the state to support local law enforcement in keeping communities safe. I started elder abuse and human trafficking units in the 18th Judicial District. Criminal justice is an important part of the AG’s office.”
Weiser differed. He said, “The AG does 10 percent of criminal prosecutions. Environmental crimes have been de-emphasized. Elder abuse and identity theft could be emphasized. Local district attorneys handle most crime.”
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