Optimism in the Face of Cynicism

When I launched my campaign, I committed to being authentic, straightforward, and presenting a positive vision to the citizens of Colorado. Over the last 18 months, I have stayed true to the core optimism that animates my commitment to public service. I knew that this election would test whether I could win this race through a commitment to an elevated and positive dialogue with the voters.

In the face of the Republican Attorney General’s Association latest attack ad, which makes deceptive and sensational claims about my career and values, I had a choice to make in terms of how to respond. My belief is that cynical and deceptive attack ads seek to divide us, debase the public discussion, and undermine our democracy. In this case, the ad also sought to distract voters from the important issues–and the comparison of my and my opponent’s stance on them–that voters will face when they elect our next Attorney General.

Just this weekend, a nonpartisan fact-check by the Denver Post’s newsroom reviewed the ad and debunked every one of the claims it reviewed as “misleading.”
Source: Ad Fact Check, Denver Post, October 27, 2018

Because I am committed to fighting for our democracy and building trust with voters, I responded to this attack by explaining the truth and what is at stake in this election. (You can see my response below.)  I believe that the damage done through divisive rhetoric and attacks on our institutions threaten our democracy. They also disrespect the voters.

"[T]he ad about Weiser’s pro bono work is especially troublesome by the way it intimates that Weiser is unfit for public service for defending constitutional rights."
Source: Below the Belt, Grand Junction Sentinel, October 26, 2018

The issue addressed in the ad was my work on a pro bono civil case for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is a significant honor to be asked by a panel of judges to address an important issue of constitutional law. I did not choose the case or the client. And I never sought to defend the prisoner’s actions (as a criminal defense attorney or otherwise). My job was to defend his constitutional rights, in particular, equal justice under law and due process. This principle is a bedrock of our Constitution–due process is provided to everyone, even for the most abhorrent of criminals.

To suggest that defending a prisoner’s constitutional rights means you support their crimes is offensive to the concept that we are all committed to the rule of law.
Source: Anti-Weiser Ads Disrespect Our Right to Counsel and Must Be Condemned

By The Hon. David L. Wood, a lifelong Republican who is a former President of the Colorado Bar Association and elected District Attorney for Larimer and Jackson Counties, joined with former Democratic DA Stan Garnett, Denver Post, October 26, 2018

My career in the law and public service has focused on defending equal justice under law and fighting for civil rights. That’s exactly what I will do–for all Coloradans–as your next Attorney General. The rule of law and due process should not be partisan issues. For our democracy to survive, we need to defend our most basic constitutional values and reject cynical, attack politics that seeks to undermine democracy and the rule of law to win elections.

From the early responses to this appalling ad (including a powerful editorial by the Grand Junction Sentinel and a great op-ed in the Denver Post), I am more optimistic than ever that our approach will win this election and help us fight for our constitutional rights and our democracy. Please join our campaign and help us do just that.

Vistas, Valleys & Voters: Central & Southwestern Colorado

During our return to the San Luis Valley in August, we start at the Alamosa Boys and Girls Club where an organization called KaBOOM has rallied locals to build a new playground. Members of the local university's football team, county commissioners, parents, and volunteers gather in what was once an empty lot to assemble a place of community gathering. Kids paint a map of the world on the basketball court with a star on Southeastern Colorado that reads “home.” It’s hot outside (90 degrees to be exact), but everyone is cheerful under the late-summer San Luis sun.

Down the road, the sounds of community gathering fade as we pull into the Alamosa County Jail, where Sheriff Jackson has graciously agreed to give us a tour. In the jail, 92% of inmates are opioid users, and the county lacks drug treatment opportunities for the insurgency of drug users in the area. The prison is at 200% capacity; women, who were barely incarcerated a few years ago now makeup a third of the prison population, because opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender; rooms that sleep two are now home to twelve. It’s dire, and the county lacks the resources to provide treatment options, in the jail or otherwise. Instead, arrivals--including addicts--are admitted into a 5x5 orange cinderblock room with a singular drain in the middle. People out in these stretches of rural America where the prisons are crowded with opioid users and treatment is two hours away are used to be ignored. For them, the only politics that matter are whether you show up to listen to them, whether you care about addressing their issues, and whether you can deliver results. It’s not about party or partisanship, it’s about a genuine need for public servants and advocates who take their concerns to heart.

On Alamosa’s Main Street, community leaders and locals gather for a roundtable on the Future of the San Luis Valley. Most strikingly, the majority of attendees say a future is hard to discuss in the face of their present crisis — specifically, the opioid epidemic. John, a career educator in the Valley, recounts a story about one of his former student’s heroin overdose: “I will never forget the pain in [a] father’s eyes as he told me about walking into his son’s bedroom and seeing the needle hanging out of his arm. His son ended up passing away. Stories like that are more common in the San Luis Valley than they should be,” John shares. They are. And to ensure a future for the San Luis Valley, we need to treat this epidemic with urgency and empathy. Similarly, there is a call for empathy towards immigrants, who are valuable workers on farms and an important part of the local economy.

That night, we sleep at Secretary Ken Salazar’s ranch under a sky so dark you can see the cloud of the Milky Way spiraling above. Secretary Salazar rises early and, in a stunning show of hospitality, makes the campaign team a hot breakfast filled with potatoes from his farm, his favorite local red chili, pancakes, and bacon. After we finish breakfast, he takes us down a dirt road in his pickup truck to the cemetery where his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are buried. We traipse through dew-covered grass, and he tells us about the generations of Salazars that have lived, farmed, and died in the San Luis Valley.

Secretary Salazar tells us about the church that once stood near the cemetery, lost to time and the elements, and how fifty years after looters had stolen the church’s organ, an Anglo-Saxon Mormon found the organ and returned it to the Catholic, Hispanic Salazars. This is a poignant example of how local communities can reach across generational ethnic divides in a stretch of Southeastern Colorado that is at once remarkably beautiful and often overlooked by the rest of our state. The values here are those of family and history; of public service and graciousness; of the land and its power. Coloradans can and should look to the San Luis Valley and its extraordinary residents for an example of our state — of humanity — at its very best.

A few days later, we start our morning with a meeting on the Southern Ute Tribe’s reservation. Phil meets with members of the Tribal Council to talk about the complex relationship between the Southern Utes and Colorado’s government, including the Attorney General. The Ute Tribe is a sovereign nation, responsible for their own land and laws, but still maintain a relationship with the wider state of Colorado as a co-equal sovereign. The laws of the Tribal Reservation and the State of Colorado are different; take, marijuana, for example, which is not legal on the reservation, presenting complicated regulatory and enforcement challenges. At the same time, there is ample opportunity for collaboration in areas where the State of Colorado can work with the Tribe, such as in addressing the opioid epidemic, which has ravaged the Tribal population as it has ravaged the state at large. It is clear from the conversation that Phil recognizes the long and complex history of the Native American Tribes, understands their sovereignty, and is committed to working with them.

On our final day on the road, we stop in Gunnison for a meeting with members of the Upper Gunnison River Water Compact. A single issue that consistently emerges for the future Attorney General is water, and John — the General Counsel for the water district — tells us just how important the AG is in helping negotiate complex water management compacts both between Colorado’s regions and outside states. Understanding water, its nuances, and the importance of fostering collaborative relationship with surrounding states will all be key areas for our next Attorney General.

This trip is the last of our summer road trips, and as Phil and the campaign team rolls back into Denver that night, I reflect on the forty counties we visited this summer, and what we’ve learned from each. Across Colorado, people talk about things that we take for granted on the Front Range: access to reliable broadband, affordable healthcare, and a good education; opioid treatment, water rights, and empathy towards immigrants.

This summer, Phil showed up for them. As Attorney General, I am confident that he will continue to do so.

Rural Advocate of the Year Acceptance Statement

Dear Rio Grande County Democrats,

It is an honor and a privilege to receive the Rural Advocate Award this evening. I am truly sorry that I cannot be there with you in person. Please know that I am inspired by and grateful for your support. And I very much look forward to seeing many of you on my next visit to the San Luis Valley.

One of the great privileges of this campaign has been traveling to communities in places like Rio Grande County, such as Monte Vista and Del Norte, and your neighboring towns across that beautiful Valley. It’s been so valuable for me to hear from you, to learn about your concerns, and to see the amazing energy, innovation, and commitment you bring to building a better future for yourselves, for your children and for future generations. You can be a model for the state on many issues, and you can help to bridge our state’s rural-urban divide. Our rural communities and our cities are deeply connected and Colorado should not be divided along these lines. The issues are not partisan issues - they are Colorado issues, and American issues. We need one another to solve them with creativity, and mutual support.

As Attorney General, I’ll work tirelessly to support every part of our State. I’ll be working to help get high quality broadband to every county; to create new economic opportunities statewide, not just on the Front Range; and to take on the opioid epidemic, which I know is ravaging rural communities like yours. And I know that water is absolutely vital to places like the San Luis Valley. As your Attorney General, I will do everything in my power to protect our water and work with you toward water sustainability, so that your agricultural communities and economy can thrive into the future.

I also know the importance of Colorado’s public lands— they are critical to sustaining agriculture as well, from healthy forests and watersheds that are the source of your water supply to the importance of grazing on public lands, which is key to sustaining the working ranches in your region. And all of the other ways that rural communities like yours depend upon public lands to meet your real needs and quality of life—from hunting and fishing to providing firewood for heating your homes, along with the public lands recreation that your families enjoy, as well as the ways that public land recreation can contribute to your local economy.

As you know, I have visited the San Luis Valley six times in the course of this campaign. I deeply believe in the importance of candidates showing up in person, to build direct relationships with people in communities around our great state. And while I am unable to be there with you tonight, I greatly appreciate your acknowledging my commitment to you and to advocating for rural areas. We have important work to do together. I believe that —with the right leadership and your community’s proven commitment to working together and finding solutions—the future of the San Luis Valley will be very bright. You have my commitment to help you and to work with you, in every way possible, as your next Attorney General.