Phil Weiser and JD MacFarlane

Guest Commentary: Why Phil Weiser Is The Right Choice for Our Next AG

By JD MacFarlane

In 1974, I was elected as Colorado’s Attorney General. I was part of a group of leaders around our nation dedicated to reform and renewal in the wake of the Watergate crisis. Today, we face a similar challenge. To meet this challenge, we need to elect Phil Weiser as our next Attorney General.

In 2018, we need an Attorney General who will bring energy, innovation, and vision to this important office. Phil Weiser will be that Attorney General. I first met Phil when he was the Dean of the University of Colorado Law School. At a time when law school applications fell by 40%, CU Law’s applications rose by 10%. At a time when student debt was rising, the average indebtedness of CU Law students fell by $16,000. Phil was a tireless champion for CU Law students, making their employment a top priority and landing CU Law in the top twenty nationwide for employment placement with over 96% employment rate nine months after graduation. Phil made diversity and inclusiveness a top priority, earning recognition from the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association and partnering with key organizations like the Center for Legal Inclusiveness and the Colorado Women’s Bar Association.

Our Attorney General’s office is the largest law firm in Colorado. For today, our challenge is to find a leader who can lead the office and deliver better results for the people of Colorado. The office is not serving Coloradans effectively; instead, it has prioritized political cases (like suing, rather than collaborating with, Boulder County when it was working on an oil and gas ordinance). It has refused to work with our Governor, forcing him to hire private counsel to represent Colorado. Phil will bring a collaborative, professional, and innovative approach to the office, as he did as an official in the Obama Administration, and in building the highly successful Silicon Flatirons Center on Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at CU.

Phil is committed to engaging and serving the entire State as our next Attorney General. As CU Law Dean, Phil created a loan repayment program, supporting graduates who went to work in underserved areas and gave special scholarships to encourage students to work outside Denver/Boulder during the summers. At the Silicon Flatirons Center that he founded and runs at CU, he leads Startup Colorado, which has supported the development of startup communities in Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and Boulder and is now focused on supporting startup communities throughout the State. Phil’s campaign to be our next Attorney General is taking him throughout the State, with a focus on issues that matter to southern, western, and eastern Colorado, including bringing broadband Internet access to our entire State, combatting the opioid crisis, encouraging competition and lower rates in health insurance, and protecting water rights.

I know from personal experience that having the right person as Attorney General matters greatly to our State. I am excited, along with our other elected Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar, to support Phil’s campaign. His focus on defending our freedoms, fighting for opportunity for all Coloradans, and protecting our land, air, and water is what we need from our next Attorney General during this challenging time. Please join me in supporting his campaign.

Video: What Baseball Teaches About America

The values of the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers World Series exhibited the same qualities that Phil Weiser, candidate for Colorado Attorney General, wants to bring to the Colorado Attorney General office: hard work, dedication, a refusal to give up, and real ingenuity. Congratulations to the Houston Astros and looking forward to celebrating the Colorado Rockies' first World Series victory next year.

Watch the Video Below:

Phil Weiser for Attorney General

Guest Commentary: Phil Weiser is the Right Choice to Make the Attorney General’s Office An Engine For Progress

By Jeni James Arndt, Chris Hansen, and Tracy Kraft Tharp

In 2018, Coloradans have the opportunity to hire a new lawyer to represent us and work as a partner with the State Legislature.  For us, this is straightforward decision:  Phil Weiser is the right person for the job.

Phil’s approach to problem solving and can do attitude promises to provide our State Legislature with a partner and leader who can work with us on a range of issues—from criminal justice reform to addressing the opioid crisis to building a 21st century energy system to water management to bringing broadband to all Coloradans.  One quality that makes Phil special is that he appreciates that bringing lawsuits is only one tool that the Attorney General’s office can use to make life better for all Coloradans.  In this video, Phil explains this important point.

For the State Legislature, the Attorney General can either be an engaged partner, or a hindrance to progress.  Consider, for example, the case of criminal justice reform.  Currently, Colorado has over 20,000 people in prison and is now stretching to find additional capacity.  In some local jails, moreover, there is considerable overcrowding because we are putting opioid users in jail and lack treatment options.  For us to develop a smarter criminal justice system, we need leaders across our State—including those of us in the Legislature, District Attorneys, County Sheriffs, public defenders, social workers, and others—to work together to evaluate when we should be imprisoning people who are a risk to society and when we can use alternatives to incarceration.  Phil is just the type of leader who can help us forge this path. As the Dean of CU Law School, for example, he worked successfully with the State Legislature to develop a program to send recent law school graduates to rural communities to work as assistant district attorneys.

On a range of other issues, from those he knows well (like broadband) to those he is working hard to learn more about (water management), we know that Phil will bring innovative and energetic leadership to the office to get things done.  That’s why leaders like Bernie Buescher, Alice Madden, Ken Salazar, and Tim Wirth are behind him in this race.  We are proud to join them in supporting Phil and transforming our Attorney General’s office into an engine for progress.

Colorado Flag

The New Separation of Powers

The dysfunction in today’s political system would be painful for our Founders.  Under our Constitution, Article I governs the legislative branch, which is charged with passing the laws and ensuring that the executive branch (set up under Article II) follows the rule of law and respects our Constitution.

Over the course of our nation’s history, our practice has largely followed the model our Founders had in mind.  In the 1990s, for example, Congressional leaders like Colorado’s David Skaggs stood up to a President of his own party to defend our Constitution and the rule of law.  Today, as President Trump undermines the Affordable Care Act and threatens to leave many Coloradans without health care insurance, it’s a different story.  As one commentator explained, as long as the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, President Trump does “not have the right to undermine it through the use of executive power.”  Unfortunately, Congress is unable or unwilling to do its job in today’s polarized and dysfunctional environment to ensure that the President follows the Constitution’s requirement that the laws be faithfully executed.  Thankfully, State Attorney Generals are stepping up to defend our Constitution and the rule of law.

I am running to be Colorado’s next Attorney General because our constitutional freedoms and our nation’s commitment to the rule of law requires active citizens and responsible leaders.  Our current Attorney General has remained on the sidelines or has cheered on repeated challenges to our Constitution and the rule of law.  Notably, while other State Attorneys General have stepped up to challenge the unconstitutional travel ban, the ending of the DACA program, and the undermining of the Affordable Care Act, Colorado’s State AG has refused to act.  In some of these cases, she has forced our Governor to hire private counsel to represent our State.  And instead of working collaboratively in Colorado to solve problems and address challenges, such as managing oil and gas development responsibly, she has played political games, like suing Boulder County when it was working on an ordinance on this issue.  We deserve better.

The Constitutional Plan and Today’s Reality          

Under our Constitution, the founders expected Congress to exercise oversight of the executive and to check executive branch overreach.  In Federalist 51, James Madison praised the Constitution for creating a system that gave to “those who administer each department, the constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others.”  As one commenter explained, “a system of checks and balance between the legislative and executive branches would use each branch’s 'ambition' to check the ambition of the other.”  Or, as Madison famously put it, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

The Madisonian innovation of separation of powers has served our nation very well.  At important times during our nation’s history—the Vietnam War and Watergate, for example—Congress has stepped up to oversee illegal actions by the executive branch.  Today, however, the level of polarization and party discipline in Congress (and fear of primaries) has led to an environment where Presidential action remains unchecked.  In the absence of Congress doing its oversight job and functioning properly, the executive branch has a greater ability to exercise its discretion on how to implement and, in President Trump's case, whether to implement the law.

Federalism and the New Separation of Powers

In today’s environment, where Congress is refusing or is unable to act to ensure that the President “faithfully executes” the laws, State Attorneys General are playing an increasingly important role.   In the mid-2000s, when the Bush Administration refused to recognize that greenhouse gases were threatening our environment, a number of State Attorneys General stepped forward to challenge the Administration’s failure to follow the Clean Air Act.  In the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision, the Supreme Court recognized the role of State AGs in overseeing executive branch inaction and called on the EPA to begin regulating greenhouse gases.  Based on this precedent, State AGs now regularly oversee and take action to enforce the executive branch’s obligation to faithfully execute the laws.

I am running to be our next Attorney General here in Colorado because our freedoms and Colorado way of life depend on a willingness to stand up to the federal government.  As David Skaggs explained in endorsing my candidacy, the threats we face from the federal government, including expanded use of civil forfeiture without following due process, must be addressed by our State Attorney General.  With Congress unable to work effectively and to oversee the executive branch, our state governments play an increasingly significant role and our State Attorneys General are a principal line of defense.

In Colorado, we pride ourselves on collaborative and innovative problem solving.  On a range of issues where our federal government’s dysfunction is undermining progress, such as providing affordable and quality health care, addressing the opioid epidemic, protecting our land, air, and water and fighting climate change, and treating immigrants fairly, our state government is a model for the nation.  Unfortunately, our Attorney General here in Colorado is not working with our state leaders on these issues and is not standing up to the failings of Washington.  In 2018, we can address this by electing a new State Attorney General who stands up for us and works with leaders in our State to make progress in important areas.  Please join my campaign to help me do just that.

Phil Weiser at Pride Fest

It's already been 150 days!

Our campaign just passed another huge milestone — 150 days since Phil announced his candidacy! It may be corny, but we're keeping track of some fun stats like how many Iced Teas Phil drinks (478) or number of suitcases lost...and eventually found (1). Here are some of our stats (in graphic and text form):

  • 1,900+ unique donors
  • Wrote 22 blog posts
  • Made 1,643 phone calls
  • Hosted 127 events
  • Drank 478 iced teas
  • Baked 216 rugelachs
  • Coach 10 of Aviva's debate classes

The days on this campaign are flying by. We have lots to do to win this race and a limited time to get our message out. We appreciate your continued support.

What Does the Attorney General Do?

Video: What does the Attorney General Do Anyway?

Watch the video, below:

Phil Weiser, candidate for Colorado Attorney General, describes what the Attorney General does, and, why it is important for all Coloradans.

Hi. My name is Phil Weiser, and I'm running to be Colorado's next Attorney General. On the campaign trail, the question I get more than any other question is: what does the Attorney General do, anyway? So, let me tell you. The Attorney General oversees an office of 484 people, 270 lawyers, and those lawyers, they work for all of us. They represent every Coloradan, whether it's our civil rights, our consumer rights, our rights as a worker, or protecting our land, air, and water. This office needs to have our back. But, this office doesn't only bring lawsuits, even against the federal government. This office works with others, including our state legislature, County commissioners, district attorneys, county sheriffs - working together we can solve a range of challenges from criminal justice reform to the opioid crisis to ensuring that all Coloradans have access to broadband Internet access. This is something that I want to do as our next Attorney General because we need a leader in an office with energy, creativity, and vision... who can work effectively with others to solve problems. So, please, support us and join my campaign to become Colorado's next Attorney General.


Guest Commentary: Bernie Buescher - Why Phil Weiser Is the Best AG Candidate for All of Colorado

In 2018, Colorado will have the opportunity to elect a new Attorney General. We deserve an innovative, energetic leader who can make the office work for all Coloradans. As someone who has worked with Phil Weiser and seen what he can do, I know that he is the right choice for our next Attorney General.

I first met Phil in 2011 when he returned to Colorado after working for President Obama as the Senior Advisor on Technology and Innovation in the White House’s National Economic Council. After his tour of duty in Washington (he also served as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice), he returned to Colorado to serve as the Dean of the University of Colorado Law School. For Phil, this marked his second return to Colorado after working in Washington. His first such return came in 1999 after serving as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and working as the counsel to the head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.

Phil’s leadership as the Dean of the CU Law School got my attention. During his time as Dean, he put the interests of the students above all else, working to lower average indebtedness (it fell $16,000 for students who started after Phil became Dean), increase employment opportunities for our graduates (CU was ranked in the top twenty in this category), promote diversity and inclusiveness (Phil was honored for this work by the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association), and raise the profile of the law school (its ranking rose over 10 places during his Deanship). In doing all of this, Phil was an entrepreneurial leader, engaging the community, bringing national leaders (including Justice Ginsburg) to CU Law, and defying national trends (the applications rate at CU Law rose 10% during a time when they fell 40% nationwide).

Phil’s passion for all of Colorado really impressed me. At CU Law, he encouraged law students to work outside the Denver-Boulder area, providing scholarships to any students who did so. He also created an endowed program (a $7 million endowment) for loan repayment assistance, providing support to pay off student debts for those students who took jobs in under-served areas of Colorado or who went into public services positions. Moreover, he worked with the Colorado District Attorneys Council to enact legislation that created a rural DA fellowship program where recent law school grads went to work in rural DA offices, aiding law enforcement in those areas and providing valuable opportunities to recent law grads. As part of the Silicon Flatirons Center, which he founded, he spearheaded the Startup Colorado initiative, which supports emerging startup communities around our state. Finally, as Dean, Phil traveled all around the state to meet and support alumni.

What makes Phil really exceptional is that he is one of those leaders who takes an entrepreneurial and can-do attitude to problem solving.  All too often, government functions on auto-pilot, continuing to do what it has always done.  Under Phil’s leadership, the Attorney General’s office will be an engine for progress, with an innovative and creative problem-solving mindset that will improve our state and the lives of all Coloradans.  Whatever issue comes up—whether it’s health care, bringing broadband to all parts of our state, protecting our water rights, or reforming our criminal justice system—Phil will be a leader who brings people together, finds creative solutions, and gets things done.

In the White House for President Obama, Phil spearheaded a significant broadband initiative that resulted in bipartisan legislation.  Here in Colorado, he founded (and got me engaged with) the Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, which creates teams of people from the State of Colorado, the City of Denver, and law students to solve cutting edge challenges through entrepreneurial methods. For a great summary of that program, and Phil’s leadership, check out this article.

It’s tempting to grow cynical or feel deflated about the future of our politics and our government. Now, more than ever, we need leaders like Phil, who genuinely care about all Coloradans, bring an innovative spirit and mindset to government, and know how to get things done. That’s why I am supporting him to be our next Attorney General and I encourage you to join me in helping get him elected in 2018.

Bernie Buescher is a lawyer in private practice and the former Deputy Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Representative from Grand Junction, and an entrepreneur.

Montezuma County Democrats

Bringing Innovation to the Attorney General’s Office

I’m inspired by the opportunity to reinvent and revitalize the office of Attorney General in Colorado.  Under its current leadership, the office is often left on auto-pilot, with little direction, guidance, or energy from the top.  In my past leadership roles (in President Obama’s Administration, at the University of Colorado Law School, and in Colorado’s entrepreneurial community), I placed a premium on working collaboratively, and I always looked for new ways to do things better.  I plan to bring that spirit to the Colorado Attorney General’s office.

All too often, government (and the private sector) approaches an issue by asking, “How have we handled this before?”  But the premise of entrepreneurial leadership is openness to new experiments and to the evaluation of the experiments performed by others.  I want to bring this innovative mindset to the office of Attorney General. So I’ll start by addressing the question “What’s the best way we can approach this challenge?”

When I founded the Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator program, I tapped into Colorado’s spirit of entrepreneurial leadership to transform governmental approaches to problem solving.  Over the last two years, this program has worked with the State of Colorado and the City of Denver to identify challenging issues and to pioneer new solutions presented to State and City officials.  During that time, it has developed innovative solutions to addressing the opioid epidemic, transportation for homeless individuals, and getting broadband access to low-income school children.   In addition to developing innovative solutions, the teams of governmental professionals and students in this program receive valuable training and mentorship. This inspires them to innovate in their work and accelerates their professional development.  For a recent report on this program, see this article.

Entrepreneurial leadership is important because many challenges don’t have simple or straightforward solutions.  Take the issues around for-profit education, for example.  To be sure, we need our Attorney General to protect consumers by suing fraudulent providers of education who leave students saddled with debt, no marketable skills, and no job (like Trump University did).  But we also need legitimate for-profit skills-development programs that help students master the tools they need to succeed in today’s economy (like Galvanize here in Colorado does).  Our Attorney General can work with legitimate providers of skills education to develop a program where companies that follow best practices are recognized for doing so and all institutions are held accountable for the commitments they make to their students.

In our economy, certification and validation of the claims made by companies is one of the critical roles for our government.  In industries where consumers cannot trust what some companies promise, as is the case in for-profit education, the entire industry suffers.  For certification programs—like the LEED building standard or the Energy Star program—to work, they need a watchdog on the case to look out for consumers.  As our next Attorney General, I want to make sure such programs can develop and work effectively, making sure that consumers get what they pay for.  For a description of how such programs can work, see my thoughts on this topic.

We in Colorado have a great opportunity to draw on our pioneering and innovative spirit by electing leaders who are committed to an entrepreneurial approach to government.  My track record of such leadership, inside and outside of government, goes back two decades, through my work with leaders here in Colorado to start new programs and solve problems.  The Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator program is just one of many examples.  With your help, I can bring that spirit to our Attorney General’s office.

Four Generations

Our Nation of Immigrants

We often refer to our country as “a nation of immigrants.”  For me, this concept is personal—my mom came to the United States in 1951 as a refugee, after being born in a Nazi concentration camp at the end of World War II.  My grandparents and my mom came here because of America’s commitment to freedom and opportunity for all.  Unfortunately, President Trump’s approach to immigration—including his reported decision to terminate the DACA program—threatens the foundation of what makes our nation great.  To protect our immigrants and develop a sound immigration policy at this time in our history, we need engaged citizens and responsible leaders to step forward.  I’m running for Attorney General to be one of those leaders.

During Barack Obama’s Presidency, Congress failed to pass the sort of comprehensive and sensible immigration reform that our Senator Michael Bennet spearheaded and that our country desperately needed.  So President Obama used his executive authority—and discretion on how to enforce our laws—to make a promise to the children of undocumented immigrants: they could be productive members of our society and not have to live in the shadows.  These are kids who were brought here by their parents and who cannot recall living anywhere other than in the United States. This program, “Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals,” or DACA, enjoys wide support and makes powerful economic sense.  But a number of Republican State Attorneys General have challenged DACA.  Sadly, our current Attorney General here in Colorado has remained silent on this issue, rather than criticize the suit by other State AGs and call on the Trump Administration to maintain this program.

Trump announced that DACA will end in 6 months.  Such a decision threats the lives of hard-working individuals who have only known life here in the United States. It would force them back into the shadows.  It also hurts our nation by breaking a commitment to immigrants who trusted our government to keep its word, by creating a self-inflicted economic wound, and by causing fear and disruption for hundreds of thousands of young people in jobs, in the military, or in school.  We need our Attorney General to support DACA and to work with our institutions, including our colleges and schools, to ensure that DACA recipients are treated fairly—especially if Trump ends the program and leaves them in a precarious situation.

Currently, the Trump Administration is seeking to enlist states and cities in its effort to deport law-abiding members of our communities.  In a display of responsible leadership, Denver is refusing to cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in targeting undocumented individuals.   Mayor Michael Hancock has made it clear that Denver is safer because it protects our undocumented community members when they come to court to testify about crimes. On the other hand, President Trump’s policy is inhumane and threatens to make us less safe.

As our next Attorney General, I will defend our state, our cities, and our counties’ decisions to refuse to cooperate with DHS in deporting law-abiding members of our communities. I will also join other State Attorneys General to challenge the Trump Administration’s unconstitutional discrimination against Muslims seeking to immigrate to the United States.  So far, our federal courts have stopped the Trump travel ban from taking full effect.  Our Attorney General, unfortunately, has refused to join with other State Attorneys General to protect our nation’s tradition of welcoming immigrants regardless of their religion, race, or economic background.

Our nation’s greatness owes a lot to our welcoming attitude toward immigrants from around the world who come here to share their talent and hard work and to benefit from our freedoms and economic opportunity.  My family has lived this experience.  As Attorney General, I will fight for the humane and welcoming treatment of our immigrants, including DACA recipients and undocumented individuals living here productively.  And I will be one of the State Attorneys General standing up against religious discrimination of those seeking to immigrate here.

Justice White and Phil Weiser

What I Learned from Justice “Whizzer” White

Working at the Supreme Court was an incredible experience, allowing me to learn from two legends, Justices White and Ginsburg. In this article, I will share what I learned from working with Justice Byron White.

In the summer of 1994, I moved to Colorado after graduating law school to work for Judge David Ebel, who serves on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Just before I began my job as a law clerk to Judge Ebel, the Tenth Circuit moved into the Byron White Courthouse, where Justice Byron White kept his summer chambers. I met him shortly after I started working in the building that bears his name.

The following spring, Justice White hired me as his law clerk for the upcoming year’s term of the Supreme Court. At the time, Justice White was a retired Justice and joined a federal court of appeals for a single sitting—that is, hearing a week’s cases. As such, he only hired one clerk and lent that clerk out to an active judge. In my case, he agreed to share me with his successor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justice Byron White was a true giant in the law and in politics—a Supreme Court Justice for over thirty years, Bobby Kennedy’s right-hand man (and Deputy Attorney General) at the Justice Department, and a leading figure in Colorado’s legal community. He graduated first in his class at Yale Law School while taking time out to play NFL football, where he led the league in rushing. Former Supreme Court Justice and Yale Law classmate Potter Stewart (famous for suggesting the “I know it when I see it” test for obscene materials) related that Justice White was both “Clark Kent and Superman.”

Justice White never forgot where he came from or let his success go to his head. Born in Wellington, Colorado, he grew up in a farming community where people were struggling. He said of his childhood, “The farmers weren’t making much money. There was very little money around Wellington, and I suppose you could say by the normal standards of today we were all quite poor, although we didn’t necessarily feel poor because everyone was more or less the same.” For Justice White, his humility came from his humble beginnings that he never forgot. And one important lesson that he demonstrated by example is that there is no excuse for arrogance, no matter how successful you are.

Justice White valued relationships, and he and his wife Marion welcomed his law clerks into their family. He was clear with me that when he hired law clerks, he was not solely focused on traditional academic credentials. He also cared about what kind of people his clerks were and how they related to others—what we might call “emotional intelligence,” or “EQ.” As such, he hired graduates from a range of law schools, enabling people like me to have an opportunity to work at the Supreme Court. Most Justices, by contrast, hired disproportionately (almost exclusively in some cases) from Harvard and Yale. The lesson in Justice White’s selection process is that pure IQ can be overrated, and EQ can be underrated.

Finally, I continue to carry with me Justice White’s professionalism and attention to detail. Judge David Ebel, who hired me to work with him on the Tenth Circuit and had clerked for Justice White years before, put this lesson succinctly, “I am not afraid of what I don’t know; I am afraid of what I think I know.” At an oral argument in one of the cases Justice White heard during my clerkship, the lawyer arguing the case (who clearly knew the issues very well) said to Justice White, “Excuse me, Justice, but this is my first case and I am nervous.” Justice White replied, “Stay nervous, counsel.” And I have carried that wise advice—and Justice White’s counsel to remain careful and be professional in whatever you do—with me throughout my career.

As I campaign across our great state to be Colorado’s next Attorney General, I know that Justice White would be proud of this career move. Justice White appreciated those willing to step into the arena and to serve the public, particularly by running for office. As I take on this new challenge, the lessons I learned from Justice White—about humility, about relationships, and about professionalism—guide me on this journey. They will also inspire me to be the best Attorney General I can be if elected to the position.

--Originally published in North Forty News.