DENVER — One has nearly three decades of litigation experience. One has nearly three decades of teaching and administrative experience. For George Brauchler and Phil Weiser, that is not where the difference between the two men end.
In fact, the two candidates running for Colorado’s Attorney General this November have nearly nothing in common. Even the one thing they kind of agree on — the mental health aspect to the gun control debate — they are still worlds apart on what that should look like.
Brauchler, a Republican, took a lot of backlash from his own party earlier this year when he supported the late-session Red Flag Bill, sponsored by fellow Republican, Rep. Cole Wist of Arapahoe County and Democrats Rep. Alex Garnett of Denver and Sen. Lois Court of Arapahoe and Denver.
The bill would have allowed family members, close friends and law enforcement officials to temporarily remove guns from anyone who appeared to be a threat to themselves or others. It died in the Senate.
Brauchler, who prosecuted the Arapahoe theater shooter and presided over the internal police investigation of officers who killed the suspect in the shooting death of a Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy, has seen firsthand the damage done by the mentally ill when they are allowed to possess guns, he said. So, he stands behind his decision to support that bill, but believes there were too many flaws and too little time to pass it, adding he’d support something similar if state legislators don’t do something to address the mental health aspect of gun control.
“What I am very sensitive to are the due process considerations and how they impact someone’s Second Amendment rights,” Brauchler said. “The bill I supported, came out at a really challenging time, a bill like this needs to be drafted on day one. It needs to be a priority bill that is drafted in January and allows for the maximum amount of input from the maximum amount of people. When you’re talking about a constitutional right, this isn’t a bill that drops at the end of the session.”
Brauchler said he would also advocate that any similar bill sunsets in 12 or 18 months.
“The idea being that I’m skeptical of giving the government greater authority to gain access to people’s homes and deprive them of firearms and other property,” Brauchler said. “In that 12 months we would know: Did it work? Was it used? Was it overused? Was it abused? Does it need fixed? Or do we come to the conclusion it’s not the right approach for Colorado.”
Weiser on the other hand, doesn’t think the bill went far enough.
“Issues around gun safety are ones I hear consistently especially from young people,” Weiser said. “Twenty years ago, we had the Columbine massacre and people where asking: How can this happen? Now people are saying: Where will it happen next? One of the challenges we have is how to keep guns out of the hands of people who are dangerous.”
Weiser said he supports Colorado’s current laws, calling them common sense.
“I respect the background checks, and I would work to improve that law, adding a red flag law as well as a bump stock ban.”
Both Brauchler and Weiser sat down with Complete Colorado to discuss their positions on all the issues facing Colorado and how they would handle them as Attorney General. Here are their answers.
Gun Control – “We have not focused on giving law enforcement the tools necessary to separate the mentally ill from firearms. The imminent standard is too high of a workable standard for street cops. Over the last 40 years we have defunded mental health institutions. There is no place except the emergency room to put these folks.” Sometimes in less than an hour they are walking right back out, he said. “There are no beds for them and the emergency rooms don’t have the ability to care for them or monitor them. If we could figure out a way to keep the wrong people from acquiring firearms then, I don’t think discussion about the rest of the firearms spectrum is nearly as pressing or as relevant.”
Criminal Justice Reform — 1) Sunset laws: “For every brand new criminal law, we need to say ‘in (X amount) of years this thing is going to go away,’ now we get a chance to take a look at it and see how many times it was used or abused. This was a Thomas Jefferson idea when he said if we are going to keep laws that are applicable to this generation then this generation ought to be able to weigh in on it because the dead have no authority over the living. And he was right. “That is the single biggest criminal justice reform we can engage in. 2) Pardons: “Right now the governor has significant authority to grant pardons – the closest thing you can come to for governmental forgiveness. But what you see are governors who will wait until the end of their term to exercise their authority. Being in this job, I have come to the conclusion that there are people out there who have earned pardons. I want to see a governor who has a more robust system for pardons. A celebration where they say: ‘Here is a guy that made it through our system and is actually reformed,’ is actually better. 3) Felons: “You shouldn’t have to necessarily live with a felony conviction your entire life.” Brauchler said he’s like to see some sort of system that certain felony convictions could be expunged or reduced so that good people are not living with felony convictions on their records forever.
Sanctuary Cities – “In an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction — which immigration is — the only things we can do is follow the law, convince people to amend the law or repeal the law,” he said. “There is no fourth option of we don’t like the law so let’s ignore it, let’s thwart it, let’s do an end run around it. The attorney general should be the embodiment of the law. Whether you agree with it or disagree with it, are you willing to enforce the rule of law? In this case sanctuary cities are an overt attempt to thwart federal law. This is an area where the feds have the only jurisdiction over the law. The AG has no tools in their box to force a city or a mayor or county into complying with federal law that I’m aware of.”
Oil and Gas – “I want to see the AG office play a more proactive role with communities before they pull the trigger on running legislation that runs at odds with the state, more engagement between those communities and the energy companies that seek to do business there. But at the end of the day, the AG is a defender of our state by enforcing our constitution and our laws. Right now, we have a statewide scheme for oil and gas. These attempts by these counties and these cities, they run at odds with state law. The only right answer for any AG is to say I’m going to pick the state law over the municipality that runs afoul of it. My opponent wants to open an entire office helping these communities get around the law. It’s also a takings issue. I own the mineral rights. How does the government get to come in and take that with no compensation by saying we just ruled you can’t use your land in that way too bad so sad were not going to give you a penny?”
Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) – “It’s in our constitution. That makes it even more special than the state legislature and the laws that they pass. I am a full-throated supporter of TABOR. I am unpersuaded by the argument that it’s just too hard to get people to raise taxes on themselves. I also agree with the courts that getting people to decide when it’s OK to raise our taxes is not somehow a violation of our Republican form of government. I feel like TABOR is being chiseled away at. I’ve heard the Democrats say they’d like to fix the parts that don’t work, but I think if they had their druthers they’d repeal the whole thing. No thanks I’m not interested. I believe in TABOR, and I believe it’s what’s kept us from becoming California.”
Qualifications for Office – “As far as we can tell, my opponent has never set foot in a court room and now he wants to be in charge of 280 government lawyers, many of whom spend a great deal of time in those courtrooms that he’s avoided for 25 years. That’s weird. He’s been an academic most of his life, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I don’t know that being in an ivory tower your entire career is good training ground for being in charge of defending the constitution of the state. I have tried municipal, state, federal and military level. I’ve been a prosecutor. I’ve been a criminal defense lawyer. I’ve been a plaintiff’s attorney I’ve been a defense attorney on the civil side. I’ve done administrative hearings. There is very little that could take place in court, in most of the courts around this state that I don’t have familiarity with, and I happen to be in charge of the largest DA’s office in the State of Colorado.”
Other Issues — “Day one my opponent said he was going to join the federal lawsuits against the opioid manufacturers. Not only is that reckless, it’s dangerous, especially for a guy who wants to rush Colorado into a place he’s never been, and that’s a courtroom. My concern with it is what does he know about this case that isn’t publicly available because a real experienced trial attorney would never prejudge the validity of a law suit without looking at the discovery or the evidence or the other information in the case.”
Gun Control – “Under the First Amendment we are allowed to have reasonable (restrictions on) free speech such as defamation or yelling fire in a crowed building. We can have reasonable (restrictions) under the Second Amendment. I believe a bump stock ban is a reasonable expectation. The point of a bump stock is to make it a weapon of war and that is not a legitimate civilian use.”
Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights – “The fundamental job of the AG is to defend and enforce the law. So my job as AG is to defend and enforce TABOR because it’s the law. There is a secondary role insofar as if we want to change our laws, as an elected official, I have an opportunity, and I would say an obligation, to be a part of those conversations. Referendum C was a temporary time out, that kept us out of the straight jacket. If we don’t reform TABOR we are setting ourselves up to be in that straight jacket at a time when we are experience tremendous growth. I believe that is fiscally irresponsible and reckless. We need the flexibility we had with Referendum C but we need to create it permanently so we don’t end up with a band-aid effort every 5 or 10 years.”
Criminal Justice Reform – “We need to start from the premise that we are putting people in jail that are not a threat to society. Start by looking at the opioid epidemic and how many opioid users are in jail. There is a critical need for us to shift from a criminal justice model for opioid users to a public health model. I will hold accountable irresponsible pharmaceutical companies that told people these opioids are not addictive, knowing the opposite was true. When we win that, we will be able to use the money to support drug treatment. There are also other opportunities to make investments in prevention, such as juvenile diversion programs.”
Sanctuary Cities – “In many of these localities where they are a victim or a witness of a crime, you want them to be able to testify without a fear of being deported and having local law enforcement be commandeered by ICE. Denver has said were not going to allow our law enforcement to be commandeered by ICE. By doing that, Denver has exercised its rights under the 10th amendment, sovereignty that the Federal Government can’t take away from it.”
Oil and Gas – “Colorado needs an AG that represents the people and response to communities. The current AG sued Boulder County without talking to county commissioners first. That’s unprofessional and it is not problem solving. When I am AG, I’ll create a new unit in the AG’s office to council and guide governments, as they are on the front line overseeing oil and gas development. As AG, I’m the attorney for the Oil and Gas (Conservation) Commission. What is critical for the COGCC is to have an AG that fairly interprets the law, which requires any oil and gas developer to be consistent with the health, safety and environment. Our current AG has undermined that law giving bad legal advice to the COGCC. An AG has to be responsive to help protect communities because for us to continue to have oil and gas development it is really important for communities to know the industry is operating with respect to their health and safety.”
Qualifications for office – “When you look at my experience, I am comparable to Ken Salazar or Gale Norton or Cynthia Coffman. I have the work of being a leader in the office. I have the relevant legal expertise, the leadership ability, and the values to lead the office. I was in the U.S. Department of Justice in two administrations where I was overseeing and bringing cases to protect consumers. The AG’s office is not only about litigation. How do you oversee regulation? That’s an area George Brauchler has no experience about. You have to oversee water. George Brauchler has no experience. In fact, the AG is actually in the front line of criminal prosecution less than 10 percent of the time. You need an AG with legal expertise from oil and gas to water to civil rights to consumer protection, and I have a range of experience from the Federal Government and as a law professor and dean.”
Other Issues — “It’s important to have the right leader that knows how to build a team. As the AG, you’re not trying cases, you need to be a leader and recruit the very best people. Your job is to make the judgement calls and have the values about what the office should be doing and be able to inspire and lead people. That is something I’ve done my whole career and that’s something I’ll do as AG. I am not a politician. I care about service. We are in a scary moment for democracy. Immigrants are treated unfairly. There is an assault against science that says climate change isn’t happening. How do we address water (needs), opioids, the environment, or that we have affordable health care everyone? We are in a climate war about insulting people. That’s not me. I’m about wanting to solve problems.”