A Call for Empathy Towards Survivors & Due Process in the Senate

For many Americans, the past week was a profoundly difficult and complicated time. The events in D.C. and the discussions around them have been traumatizing, overwhelming, and inspiring. We saw one woman bravely step forward to give voice to what survivors of sexual violence have experienced across the country, then watched as many members of a deeply partisan Judiciary Committee failed to grasp the seriousness of her testimony. The news cycle and conversations surrounding Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination have become symbolic of our polarized political discourse and how far we have left to go in creating a society in which all voices are heard and survivors of sexual assault or harassment are not shamed for coming forward.

Even in the face of credible testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and calls from many experts--including the American Bar Association--to conduct a fuller investigation of allegations of sexual assault, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to push through Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation without investigation. This outcome would have constituted a painful failing of the Senate to perform its constitutional role--to advise and consent on nominations, namely, to manage the responsible vetting of nominees to the highest court in the land.  Moreover, the confirmation of an individual for a seat on the Supreme Court with pending and uninvestigated serious questions about his honesty and treatment of women would threaten the Court’s credibility and its standing with the public. This is a moment of truth for our nation--we cannot allow reports of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse to be swept under the rug, give up on the importance of equal justice under law, or tolerate the elevation of partisan objectives over constitutional principle.

Over the last week, the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh focused our nation on how the Senate handles allegations of sexual assault a generation after the Senate confirmed then-Judge Clarence Thomas in the face of Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment. As Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum asked about the Ford-Kavanaugh proceedings, “Why should we risk the possibility that a sex offender, albeit uncharged, could soon be sitting on the United States Supreme Court, when we have ample means available to conduct a full investigation of the allegations before making that decision?”

For victims and survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment, the consequences of reporting their experiences--or witnessing the repercussions to others who report--are often enough to keep them quiet.  (In using the term “victim” because of its use in the relevant legal context, I do so aware that many prefer the more accurate term “survivor,” because it captures their strength, courage, and refusal to be defined as a “victim.”) The #MeToo movement represents a challenge to this conspiracy of silence and a challenge to the (almost invariably) men who commit sexual misconduct and/or bully survivors into silence. I was in law school during the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings and remember a clear explanation by a professor of mine on why Anita Hill did not come forward earlier: her testimony would have jeopardized her career advancement, would have made her a pariah, and would have revictimized her through threats and other repercussions.

There is even a more fundamental issue raised by the hearings this week, which the #MeToo movement addresses: the shaming of victims. Many sexual assault and sexual harassment victims don’t come forward because they are led to believe they are at fault or that it’s “unfair” to “ruin the life” of an often-influential assailant (as was certainly the case this week), despite the fact that victims of sexual violence must live with the the trauma of their experiences for a lifetime. In how it chooses to handle this matter, the Senate will send a message--to millions of American women and men--about what will happen if and when victims report cases of sexual assault or sexual harassment.

For victims of sexual assault, particularly those victimized as children, it takes incredible courage to come forward. One former prosecutor stated that “I learned how much unexpected courage from a deep and hidden place it takes for a rape victim or sexually abused child to testify against their assailant.”

During the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing, that former prosecutor--Senator Lindsey Graham--and others cast aside these very insights as well as the lessons of the Thomas-Hill hearings in attempting to undermine the significance of Ford’s account and move for Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation without any further investigation or testimony of other key witnesses. In acting in this manner, a number of Senators sent a damaging message to all victims: your experience does not matter and should be ignored. In short, this attitude disrespects the powerful motivation Dr. Ford cited in her testimony: “My motivation in coming forward was to provide the facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you can take that into serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”

A lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be reserved for individuals who can make decisions that are viewed credibly and respectfully by the public. After all, the rule of law depends on our legal institutions operating outside the realm of partisan politics. The willingness of the Senate to rush through an appointment in the face of such serious questions demonstrates the power of partisanship over principle and a willingness to compromise the institutional credibility of the Supreme Court. And Judge Kavanaugh’s own testimony--in which defended himself in partisan terms--did not inspire confidence that he would place constitutional principle over partisan objectives if he was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

I refuse to give up on the cause of creating a world where victims of sexual violence are taken seriously and treated with the respect, integrity, and due process that their bravery demands. In this world, we would not automatically side with the allegations made by a victim--because due process means no one is judged without a fair investigation--but we would always honor the need to carefully investigate and consider such allegations. I also refuse to give up on the importance of the rule of law or the concept of principle over party. As the American Bar Association concluded: “Deciding to proceed without conducting additional investigation would not only have a lasting impact on the Senate's reputation, but it will also negatively affect the great trust necessary for the American people to have in the Supreme Court.” Indeed, even in these hyper-polarized times, we have seen moments--worthy of being celebrated--of putting principle above party.

In this case, Senator Flake demonstrated what statesmanship looks like--he followed the counsel of the American Bar Association and others, refusing to support Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court without more careful investigation. This decision was inspired by the brave women who shared their stories with Senator Flake just before his decision, including one who confronted him in a Senate building elevator, stating:

I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them you are going to ignore them. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what you are telling all women in America, that they don’t matter. They should just keep it to themselves because if they have told the truth, you’re just going to help that man to power anyway.

In an action that underscores both the promise of protest and the capability for the Senate to engage in deliberation, Senator Flake took this message to heart and concluded that an FBI investigation was necessary. With the benefit of more investigation, the process can proceed with the promise of a minimal degree of fairness.

* * *

Today’s politics is one where too many leaders are willing to remain silent, follow partisan pressures, or indulge in empty talking points.  This past week was one of those moments when the public could see how leaders behave—and hold those accountable who refuse to act responsibly.  The citizens who spoke out publicly and privately to Senator Flake made clear the stakes of ignoring a credible allegation of sexual assault. They also made plain the importance of listening to victims of sexual assault and harassment and bringing such conversations out of the shadows.  As our next Attorney General, I will work hard to lead an office that insists on and stands for the respectful and fair treatment of everyone--and supports and listens to the voices of victims who are too often ignored or dismissed.

Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP


Innovation in Water

Listen to John of Gunnison County talk about how an AG can lead on water

Colorado is a headwater state. This means surrounding states look to us for their water, but I believe it can also mean they look to us for inspiration and innovation when it comes to managing this resource.

Last week, we wrote to tell you of the situation on the Yampa River—a tributary to the Colorado River that’s facing historic lows, throwing local communities into crisis mode as they deal with drought conditions. As a result of the low levels, water users are facing new limits on their supply.

Leading on water management will be one of the most urgent challenges I face when entering the Attorney General’s office. An overarching goal of mine is to bring innovation and creativity into government, which often means finding inspiration in local communities who currently lead in these areas. When it comes to water management, we should all be inspired by the City of Steamboat Springs’ foresight when developing a contingency plan for drought conditions and their strategic reliance on alternative sources of water.

By talking to those who represent the City of Steamboat Springs in a continuing effort to listen to and learn from people across the state, I discovered that the City of Steamboat Springs long ago put alternative supply arrangements in place, allowing the City to adapt to the limits imposed on the Yampa River supply. That foresight is a real credit to the City.

Unfortunately, with respect to the possibility of forthcoming reduction of our Colorado River water supply, we are not in as good a situation. Managing the Colorado River demands smart and proactive leadership here in Colorado--as well as working with surrounding states, many of whom receive water from the river. With decreasing water levels, we need to continue to engage in the sort of far-sighted planning that Steamboat Springs did.

As I travelled to rural areas of the state that have suffered from “buy and dry” situations, it is crystal clear to me what the costs of failure to plan are--the ending of communities and a threat to local agriculture. We simply cannot wait for disputes to arise—between surrounding states or between parts of Colorado—to act. If we do, we will have already lost.

I am optimistic that we will meet the challenge of managing the demands on our water. We’re Coloradans, and we rise together — with creativity and collaboration — to the challenges that face our state. As our next Attorney General, it will be my job to help lead on making these arrangements. My background, including as founder of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship, is in innovation. I’m excited to bring a fresh perspective, energy, and creativity to the AG’s office to lead on water.

This week is Denver Startup Week, which is a great showcase of the innovative spirit we have in Colorado, just like we see in the City of Steamboat Springs. It’s what we need to be able to lead on managing water, addressing the opioid epidemic, improving our criminal justice system, and on a range of other topics. With your help, I will bring that spirit to the Attorney General’s office.


500 Days on the Campaign Trail!

Today, our people-powered campaign marks 500 days on the campaign trail and only 44 days until the election. And it’s all thanks to you. 8,657 individuals have donated to our campaign, and our army of volunteers has written and mailed 82,893 postcards!!!! Thank you so much. Please take a look at the graphic at the bottom of this email to see the things we’ve achieved together in our campaign.
But…we all know people in our lives who have yet to focus on the 2018 election–or who never vote down ballot. Explaining why the Attorney General’s office matters (and how it affects them) is one of my biggest challenges in this race.

To make the case for why the Attorney General position is important to the people of Colorado, we made a new video to briefly explain the office and why I’m running.

To help spread the word, please share this video with your network through email and social media. It will help get the word out about why this race matters and help create energy for our work together. Your voice makes all the difference.

My latest video on building a better Colorado.

Speaking of making a difference, just take a look at everything we’ve done with your help.

I’m so grateful for those who have been with me from the beginning and those wonderful friends who I continue to make along the way.


Vistas, Valleys & Voters: Northeastern Colorado

“Colorado is a Welcoming State”
A Day in Northeastern Colorado

During our trip to the Northeastern corner of Colorado — beginning in Sterling, looping through Fort Morgan, and ending in Fort Collins — a singular topic consistently emerges: immigration. Fort Morgan is the second most diverse city in Colorado, and owes much of its vibrant culture — signs in Main Street windows are written in French, Spanish, and Somali — to a large population of immigrants from Mexico and Africa.

On the main street in Fort Morgan, we visit La Michoacana Ice Cream Parlor, which sports cheerful green walls and a lineup of homemade popsicles. Gloria, the owner who greets us with a big smile, immigrated to the U.S. at four and settled in Fort Morgan at twelve, where she’s been a small business owner and community pillar ever since. “To me, Fort Morgan is home,” Gloria explained to us over their homemade rice popsicles . “We welcome people, of all color and race. It doesn’t matter — if you come to Fort Morgan, you feel welcomed.” We’ve heard a lot of immigrant stories based on fear, and while those are poignant and important under current threats, listening to Gloria describe her positive experience living in Fort Morgan and running her ice cream parlor reminded us what American can accomplish at its best: create a welcoming community in which there is no room for discrimination or hate. “I sleep very well at night,” Gloria smiled.

Down the street from La Michoacana is One Fort Morgan, a community center for immigrants. Fort Morgan boasts speakers of over 27 different languages, and messages of support and welcoming are scrawled across a chalkboard wall in Somali, Spanish, French, and more. Susana, the executive director, shows us a project she helped spearhead called “Fort Morgan Speaks,” which tells the stories of locals and their hopes and dreams, along with reasons they love Fort Morgan. One says, “I could be the next Cher from Clueless, but more Muslim.” I can’t help but smile. Half a continent away, bigotry exists on a colossal scale, but here in Fort Morgan, people still come together to support and protect their neighbors, something the American dream was built on. Susana echoes these sentiments: “I consider Colorado to be a welcoming state and I want it to continue to be that.”

Jim, a former judge in Sterling, talks to us at a cheerful cafe across from the courthouse, where a large group of interested voters listens to Phil over steaming pots of coffee and fresh pastries. “A lot of the battles we thought had been fought and won in the 60s and 70s are still up for grabs. Attorneys are right on the front line for that,” Jim says. He’s right: our civil liberties and equal rights are at risk, and an Attorney General will lead the battle to protect, defend, and enforce our commitment to equality and fairness.

The night ends in the company of nearly 200 Phil supporters gathered both in Greeley and Fort Collins. During our trips, I always talk about the importance of Phil showing up for people, but bathed in the warmth of giddy volunteers and earnest supporters, I’m deeply grateful for the people that show up for him as well. Phil’s fond of saying that “democracy is not a spectator sport.” He’s right, and we have a great team of engaged people ready to show up and fight for the rights that matter.


Part 3: Using Criminal Justice to Support Our Communities

This is the last part of a three part series on Criminal Justice. You can read my overview here.

As your next Attorney General, I will work hard to fix the criminal justice system for the health and safety of our communities and to protect victims of crime in Colorado.  To do so, I will work to develop and institute real policies to improve the lives of Coloradans and help our state for years to come.

Addressing Sexual Assault

Sexual assault remains a pervasive threat.  In a 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20% of all women reported having been raped and many more reported cases of sexual violence other than rape. There is much more we can do to support victims and enable them to report crimes without fear of intimidation or embarrassment.

As Attorney General, I will work to ensure that survivors have access to the resources necessary to begin the healing process.  An important element of this effort is increasing access to sexual assault nurse examiners—or “SANE nurses”—who receive specialized training in providing trauma-informed physical and mental health care for victims and in collecting and preserving forensic evidence following a sexual assault.  As AG, I will spearhead such training and encourage the use of SANE nurses more broadly.  To support this effort and an enhanced commitment to addressing such cases, I will create a special Sexual Assault Assistance Unit of specialized prosecutors and investigators in the Attorney General’s office to offer their experience and expertise to district attorneys across the state on sexual assault cases.  For smaller counties, this unit will provide invaluable support and offer expertise that they otherwise would lack in addressing sexual assault.

It is essential that we train investigators to ensure that survivors feel heard and respected when interacting with law enforcement.  Taking the wrong approach to sexual assault cases can lead to further mistreatment of victims. Consequently, we must train law enforcement on how to recognize, understand, and respond effectively and empathetically to trauma victims. For example, trauma victims may be unable to speak and communicate effectively. To an untrained responder, the limitation might undermine the victim’s credibility, but those trained in trauma-informed care will recognize and respect the victim’s experience. As Attorney General, I will lead the Colorado Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), which is housed in the Attorney General’s office, to ensure that the law enforcement training curriculum devotes significant time to this critically important topic and that it includes participation by victims’ service experts.

Combatting Human Trafficking

Given that human trafficking touches all parts of our state (and other states and countries), the Attorney General’s office is well positioned to develop a special team to work with and support District Attorney’s offices across the state.  Human trafficking targets vulnerable populations.  In Colorado, over a hundred cases are reported a year via a national hotline, a number that’s likely significantly lower than the number of cases that go unnoticed and unreported.  As our next Attorney General, I will prioritize addressing the illegal and inhumane trafficking of often-underage individuals for sex and labor.  Because these cases are often multi-jurisdictional and complex, a new statewide team can work to improve our approach and responses to human trafficking crimes.

Seeking Alternatives to Incarceration for Those Living with Substance Abuse Disorders or Mental Illness

A number of communities in Colorado have implemented drug and mental health courts, enabling those abusing opioids, other drugs, or confronting serious mental illness to get the help they need rather than face a lengthy jail sentence.  As Attorney General, I will work with leaders around the State, including our District Attorneys, County Sheriffs, public health officials, public defenders, and mental health professionals to promote diversion efforts for drug and mental health treatment as opposed to criminal sentences wherever possible.  This is the essence of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program that I am committed to support and that is being implemented in Pueblo and Alamosa, among other counties.  I will also seek to bring drug treatment and mental health services to jails and prisons for those who have committed serious crimes and need treatment.  And I will work with the legislature to provide prosecutors with even more discretion to use such diversionary programs.  We need to do better.

Revitalizing Environmental Criminal Enforcement, Elder Abuse Prosecution, and Conviction Integrity

As Colorado Attorney General, I will continue Colorado’s long history of leadership in protecting our land, air, and water.  In so doing, I will follow Ken Salazar’s example of reinvigorating environmental enforcement at the Colorado Attorney General’s office.  When Ken was our Attorney General, for example, he established an environmental crimes unit and brought cases that protected our water, land, and air, like his action to address the water contamination involving the Summitville Mine.  Our current Attorney General has shut down this unit, leaving our state less protected against corporate polluters.  As our next Attorney General, I will revitalize our Environmental Crimes Unit.

Those over 65 years old represent the fastest growing portion of Colorado’s population. Unfortunately, as members of our families age, they are increasingly vulnerable to organized scams and abuse.  Whether criminals claim to be a threatening IRS agent demanding money “or else,” impersonate a computer tech support service, or employ a fraudulent “romance scam,” elder Coloradans are being cheated out of their hard earned money every day. To address the growing elder abuse problem, I will establish a new Elder Abuse Unit in the Attorney General’s office to combat the criminal targeting of Colorado’s elder population for financial and physical exploitation.

The new Elder Abuse Unit will be a shared resource for local prosecutors, providing access to trained professionals, the State Grand Jury, and an ability to collaborate across jurisdictions.  By working collectively across jurisdictions, Colorado can better identify scams and abuses of the elderly population, manage a centralized database, and undertake consumer education efforts.  By collaborating not only with our fellow Colorado enforcement agencies, but also with Federal authorities and State Attorneys General across the U.S., we will do everything in our power to reduce the reward and increase the risk of criminal exploitation of Colorado’s elderly population.

When I served as Colorado Law’s Dean, I established the Korrey Wise Innocence Project there.  Korrey Wise was wrongly imprisoned for a rape he did not commit (as one of the “Central Park Five”).  When he was released, and compensated for his unlawful imprisonment, he wanted to invest in an innocence project and chose to do so here in Colorado.  Our Attorney General’s office used to have a Conviction Integrity Unit to complement the work of the Korrey Wise Innocence Project, but our current AG shut it down.  As our next AG, I will re-establish and enhance a Conviction Integrity Unit in our Attorney General’s office.

* * *

At its most effective, the criminal justice system works in conjunction with communities to increase overall wellbeing and safety. As Attorney General, I am committed to facilitating these cooperative frameworks, and ensuring that our communities feel supported by our criminal justice system.

 


Part 2: Criminal Justice Improvement and Reform

This is the second in a three part series on Criminal Justice. You can read my overview here.

As your Attorney General, I will work hard to make sure our criminal justice system is fair and just—and that it works for communities and law enforcement.  I will also ensure that our law enforcement agencies receive the proper tools and training to be safe and to keep our communities safe.  Finally, I will work with our rural law enforcement agencies to help them receive the support they need to be effective.

Supporting and Enhancing Law Enforcement
Providing Modern Tools & Training to Law Enforcement and Prosecutors 

Colorado’s law enforcement officers and prosecutors must have the tools and training to respond effectively to threats to the public’s physical and financial safety.  To ensure that our first responders have access to 21st century technology, I worked with President Obama on a bipartisan initiative to develop a nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network for public safety (FirstNet).  With bipartisan approval in our State Legislature, this FirstNet initiative is now moving forward in Colorado to provide the communications infrastructure that we need to protect public safety.

Criminals are increasingly using sophisticated technology to commit crimes, and identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States.  To combat this troubling trend and protect Coloradans’ financial well-being, I will work to provide our law enforcement officers with the latest technological and investigative capabilities to fight computer-based crime.  I will also work with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to help victims of identity theft get back on their feet and prevent any further harm.  As your next Attorney General, I will continue to look for innovative ways to use technology to protect public safety.

 Supporting Rural Law Enforcement and Prosecutors

Over the last decade, I have gotten to know parts of our state that have very limited law enforcement resources and demand the support of the Attorney General.  I am committed to providing full support for our law enforcement officers and prosecutors in rural areas to secure the safety of every Coloradan.  That’s why the Attorney General’s office has a Major Crimes Unit; that unit was created to support rural Colorado and I will ensure that it used in that manner.

The effectiveness of our criminal justice system as a whole depends on the effectiveness of every one of our judicial districts.  As Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, I collaborated with the Colorado District Attorney’s Council to develop the District Attorney fellowship program to place recent Colorado law graduates in rural district attorney offices in Colorado.  This program encourages exceptional young lawyers to support prosecutors in areas that are under-resourced and underserved.

De-escalating Crisis Situations

When Ken Salazar was our Attorney General, he established a statewide law enforcement training program to ensure that all law enforcement officials were trained effectively.  The Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training—or “POST” program—continues to be housed in the Attorney General’s office.  POST ensures that Colorado’s public safety officers, including the police, are provided with de-escalation training aimed at reducing the number of violent confrontations between the police and Colorado citizens, and supports building community partnerships based on mutual trust and respect.  Under my leadership, I will work to develop a POST repository of law enforcement officials who are fired for disciplinary violations so that such officers are not later hired by other agencies who don’t know of past misconduct.

Because of Ken Salazar’s visionary leadership, Colorado is one of only a few states to mandate statewide training of law enforcement, and Colorado has taken concrete steps to address the potential for the use of excess force by law enforcement officers.  As we saw in a Toronto interaction earlier this year, when law enforcement officials act to de-escalate interactions, it can make an enormous difference.  And we just recently saw in the tragic death of Antwon Rose, a promising unarmed young black man shot when he was running away from a crime scene, a heartbreaking reminder of the need to address this issue with vigilance and a sense of urgency.

As Attorney General, I will emphasize the importance of trainings aimed at de-escalation, and I will also work to ensure that Colorado’s officers are trained in identifying and responding appropriately to incidents involving individuals with serious mental illness.  Denver, for example, has implemented a successful Co-Responder model where trained mental health professionals are dispatched with police officers to calls involving mentally ill individuals.  This has resulted in safer outcomes for officers and community members, and in appropriate cases, diversion to mental health treatment instead of jail.  By supporting such programs, we will reduce the burden on our criminal justice system and decrease the number of violent episodes that endanger police officers and our communities.

Improving the Justice System
Reforming Cash Bail

As Attorney General, I will ensure that individuals entering the criminal justice system are treated fairly and that their futures are not compromised when not necessary to protect public safety.  Our current system of bail too often keeps people in jail who are not a threat to public safety or a flight risk just because they cannot afford to pay a bail bond.  That’s wrong.  Like other states that have reformed cash bail, we can and must do better by providing individualized assessments, using supervised release programs, and enabling people awaiting trial to live productive lives.  Furthermore, I will support HB 1081, which ensures court notifications—by text message or others means—are sent to those awaiting trial.  By using such a system, we can reduce the population of people incarcerated because they failed to appear in court, often because they forgot about an appointment.  In short, we need leadership on how to reduce the population of our jails, which often holds people who cannot afford bail or who were locked up for forgetting about a court date.

Improving Outcomes for Those Already Incarcerated

Coloradans with criminal convictions struggle to re-enter the workforce, find stable housing, get access to quality health care, and maintain a steady paycheck—challenges that greatly increase the chances that they will be rearrested and re-incarcerated.  As Attorney General, I will lead efforts that focus on reentry into society for those already in the criminal justice system, using the AG’s office to provide statewide leadership on re-entry coordination, as Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has done.  In addition to substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, inmates need access to job training, apprenticeship opportunities, and educational offerings to help prepare them for life after incarceration, such as those provided by Cross-Purpose, a remarkable community-based program in Denver.  I will work hard to promote and develop such programs to lower the rates of those leaving our jails and prisons ended up re-incarcerated.

Juvenile Justice System Reform:  Prevention and Diversion Opportunities 

The juvenile justice system presents an important opportunity to ask whether and how we can divert individuals from the criminal justice system.  All too often, when individuals enter the criminal justice system as teenagers, they begin a lifelong vicious cycle.  We need to stop the “school to prison pipeline” and instead help all students—regardless of their ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds— to succeed.  To do that, we must invest in programs that provide productive alternatives to youth during the times when they are most at risk of committing crimes.  And when individuals are arrested as teenagers, we should also evaluate the opportunity to use effective diversion programs, such as outdoor leadership and treatment programs, which can change the trajectory of young lives.

Resisting the Criminalization of Marijuana

Many American inmates are currently incarcerated for nonviolent offenses—frequently drug offenses—that carry harsh and unnecessary minimum sentences.  As a result, we’ve seen a steady expansion of the inmate population, which ultimately fails to make our communities any safer.  In Colorado, by legalizing marijuana, we took an important step away from this approach.

Since marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2014, communities across the state have put the revenue from marijuana taxation to good use.  Last year, 210 high school seniors in Pueblo received $2,000 each from a cannabis tax-funded scholarship program established by Pueblo County.  Also last year, Governor Hickenlooper signed a bill providing that Colorado’s $105 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales in the 2016-2017 fiscal year would go to a fund supporting housing programs for the homeless, assisting mental health programs in jails, and contributing to health resources at local schools.

As Attorney General, I will work with other leaders in Colorado, as well as with Attorneys General in other states that have legalized marijuana, to fight Attorney General Jeff Session’s hostility to the legalization of marijuana.  The steps we have taken in Colorado to decriminalize marijuana provide an important first step in treating drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice one.  By providing drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration, we can invest in people living productive lives, thereby avoiding a continuing cycle of incarceration.

* * *

We in Colorado are innovative and pride ourselves on fairness.  In criminal justice policy, we have considerable room for more innovation and a system that is both tough on crime when appropriate and smart about how best to keep our communities safe.  When we allow our criminal justice system to be stripped of empathy—and be divorced of humane solutions—we are not doing justice to the affected individuals or for our society.  Colorado can lead the nation in reforming our criminal justice system so that it serves its intended purpose—keeping people safe—without needlessly destroying lives.  Together, we can work together making Colorado a model for our nation in criminal justice improvement.

 


Vistas, Valleys & Voters: The Western Slope & Yampa Valley

Peaches & Politics: A Week on the Western Slope
A Campaign Staffer Reflects on the Trail with Phil

During our trip to the Western Slope, we ate fifteen peach-related foods. I counted. There was the peach cream cheese at Main Street Bagels (our home away from home in Grand Junction), peach sushi down the street, and peach cider at Talbot Farm’s new distillery. There were dried peaches and fresh peaches, peach maple syrup and peach beer. You’d think we’d get sick of it, but we never did.

On our third road trip of the summer, we head West via Montrose, a county where only 4000 of its 27,000 people are Democrats (that’s 15%). In an evening doubleheader (that is, two events), over 100 Democrats come out to hear Phil speak about his hopes for democracy and his commitment to showing up across the state. In the twilight — over plates of the best peach cobbler any of us have ever eaten — the enthusiasm for his story and hopes for Colorado is tangible.

Grand Junction, the largest city in Western CO, sits nestled beneath a sloping Mesa, only 30 miles from the Utah border. Due to a unique combination of soil and climate in the area, Grand Junction is Colorado’s wine country and a center of Colorado agriculture. On our first day in Grand Junction, we stroll through the farmer’s market, stopping to talk to maple syrup vendors and lavender farmers up and down the bustling street. Phil chats with Lexi for a while, a local whose first election is coming up in November. She’s never voted before, but will this time — I’m forever impressed by the power of individual connections to inspire voter engagement, especially for young people who respond to those running for office looking them in the eye and saying “your vote matters.”

Down the road in Palisade, we meet Bruce. He’s a fifth-generation peach farmer in in the area: his family’s been farming in this area since 1907, and on this exact spot of land — peach orchards in all directions, lined up beneath the mesa —since the 40s. Peaches and grapes are particularly prevalent in this area because of the “Million Dollar Breeze,” which brings a more temperate climate — and the promise of agriculture — from over the slope. Wandering through the orchards, occasionally checking peaches for days until ripeness, Bruce tells us about his involvement in Child & Migrant Services, Inc. and the necessity of treating immigrants fairly. If we fail to treat immigrants fairly and they don’t come here, “we don’t get to farm here anymore,” he says.

In Garfield County, we attend the county parade in Rifle, where we walk with the Garfield County Democrats. What they lack in numbers, they more than make up for in spirit, and we’re welcomed with open arms, signage, and enthusiastic cheers. Horses trot through the parade route, cowboys spiraling their lassoes ahead of us; the local high school’s football and cheerleading teams float through the crowd, treated as local celebrities; Phil rushes through the rope line, sharing literature and handshakes with locals. Despite people’s political leaning, people are open to what Phil has to say, and are impressed that he showed up. There’s no substitute for that simple action: showing up.

In Craig, Colorado — a rural town in Moffat County whose economy relies heavily on local mines and a coal processing facility — we sip lemonade and devour homemade cookies in the park while discussing broadband access. Craig’s hospital does not have reliable broadband–it has a single fiber connection that, when cut, takes down internet access. Craig’s residents are fired up about securing a viable, economic future for the county — one rooted in reliable tourism and entrepreneurship, not coal busts and booms — and they need an Attorney General who can support them in that development.

While in Craig, we hop in the back of Terry, the former mayor’s, pickup truck and head down the road towards the old Trapper Mine. Towers of the coal processing facility spiral above the open swaths of farmland. Terry’s current solar field is modeled after a CoOp system; individuals in the county can buy panels and shares of energy, making it economically viable. The panels are sandwiched between the sewage processing facility and in the shadow of the coal processing facility, but as the wind whips by us, Terry’s easy way of conversation shows us the future.

The Western Slope represents everything that makes Colorado great — an entrepreneurial spirit, fierce independence, commitment to finding innovative and empathetic solutions to difficult issues, beautiful vistas, and kind people. Our conversations in the area proved once more that there’s no substitute for being present across our incredible state.


Press Release: In First Public Debate of the General Election, Phil Weiser Outlines Positive Vision for Protecting Coloradans' Rights as their Attorney General

GRAND JUNCTION, Saturday, September 8 – This evening, Phil Weiser and George Brauchler each made their case to be Colorado’s next Attorney General at a candidate debate hosted by Club 20 in Grand Junction, Colorado. Widely considered the unofficial kickoff of the state’s general election season, it was the first public forum between the two candidates and showcased their substantial differences on topics ranging from broadband access to public health and civil rights, before a lively and engaged audience.

Weiser, often interrupted by applause, outlined how as Attorney General he would lead the way in protecting the rights of all Coloradans. He  clearly laid out an agenda that focused on equal rights for all, ensuring every Coloradan is treated fairly regardless of who they are or where they come from, and for protecting Colorado’s land, air and water.  

Weiser also outlined his vision for an Attorney General’s office that leads with creative solutions in a range of areas affecting all Coloradans. In particular, Weiser spoke of collaborative solutions to problems affecting Western Colorado, including lack of access to broadband, addressing the opioid epidemic by suing irresponsible pharmaceutical companies to fund drug treatment programs, and protecting and preserving Colorado’s water rights.  

Brauchler refused to address how he would approach Roe vs Wade, a top of mind concern following this week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Brauchler reaffirmed his earlier written statement: “I believe the results of the Roe v. Wade opinion are wrong and do not make us a better people. I believe that Roe v. Wade was decided based on a claimed right that was interpreted from—not expressed within—our Constitution.” When asked if as Attorney General he would submit an amicus brief in defense of Roe if that decision were challenged in the Supreme Court, Brauchler said only,  “I’d have to think about that.” In contrast, Weiser has unequivocally proclaimed his support for women’s reproductive rights and has vowed to join Attorneys General around the country to protect a woman’s right to choose.

In short, Weiser presented his positive vision for leadership that stands up for all Coloradans, based on listening to their concerns and using the range of tools in the AG’s office to protect them and their rights.


Press Release: Phil Weiser Campaign Breaks $2 Million Raised in Attorney General Race

With over 1,000 Colorado donors this period, and more than 4,600 overall, Weiser breaks fundraising record for any AG candidate in recent state history

DENVER, Thursday, September 6 – Phil Weiser’s campaign for Attorney General today announced over $347,000 raised in the reporting period between July 28 and August 29, 2018. Weiser’s fundraising total since declaring his candidacy in May 2017 now exceeds $2 million – nearly double the record for total funds raised by a statewide campaign in a non-Gubernatorial race under modern campaign finance laws.

In this reporting period, Weiser reported over 1,000 Colorado donors, bringing the total number of Coloradans who have contributed to the campaign to over 4,600. Weiser heads into September with over $300,000 cash on hand.

Weiser thanked his donors for their sustained support: “I am inspired and humbled by the enthusiasm for this people-powered campaign. The engagement in our campaign continues to build, from record voters in the Democratic primary election, Coloradans showing up at events across  the state, and by the number of volunteers and donors supporting this effort.  Coloradans are looking for an Attorney General who will defend their rights, ensuring that everyone is treated fairly, fighting for equal justice for all, and protecting our land, air, and water. I will be that Attorney General.”

The record for total funds raised by a statewide campaign, for a non-Gubernatorial state race, is the approximately $1.05 million reported by Cary Kennedy’s 2010 campaign for Treasurer.  After the 2002 election cycle, new campaign finance laws were put in place that drastically limited donations. These laws banned corporate contributions and greatly lowered the donation maximum to statewide races.

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Phil Weiser is the Hatfield Professor of Law, Dean Emeritus, and the Founder and Executive Director of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Law School. He served in the Obama Administration as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice and as Senior Advisor for Technology and Innovation at the White House’s National Economic Council. Phil lives with his wife and two children in Denver.