Brad Feld

Guest Commentary: Brad Feld - Why I am supporting Phil Weiser for Colorado AG

Over the past fifteen years, Phil Weiser and I have worked together to make Colorado a stronger, more collaborative, and more innovative entrepreneurial community. Together, we co-chaired Governor Bill Ritter’s Innovation Council, worked to launch the Startup America Partnership (when Phil worked for Obama in the White House), started Startup Colorado, brought the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network to Colorado, and helped CU become a first-class entrepreneurial university (which I discussed in a chapter in my book Startup Communities). Phil is a rare entrepreneur who can bring innovation to the government, which is just the sort of leadership we need now. I strongly encourage everyone to do what they can to help elect him as Colorado’s next Attorney General, including donating your time and money to his campaign.

Phil and I both share a background as Jews whose families came from Eastern Europe. That background, which involved a history of religious persecution, imprinted in each of us a deep appreciation for the constitutional rights and civil liberties that many Americans take for granted—the freedom of religion, the freedom of press, and a commitment to the due process of law (that is, people cannot just arbitrarily be rounded up). In Phil’s case, his mom was born in a concentration camp and came to the US when she was six. So protecting those freedoms at a time when we cannot take them for granted is a job that Phil will take seriously as Colorado’s next Attorney General, just like other State Attorneys General, who are already standing up to the Trump Administration to protect our constitutional rights.

Through hard work, his parents set up Phil for amazing opportunities, including the chance to serve as a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and work for President Obama in the White House. In the spirit of paying it forward, Phil’s concern and caring for others is powerful and plain to see for all of those who worked with Phil during his time as the Dean of the CU Law School. During his time as Dean, he set up a range of innovative partnerships around the State, including a program that placed recent law grads as assistant district attorneys in rural areas. As our Attorney General, I know that he will be a leader for all Coloradans. I am personally excited to work with him in how to support entrepreneurial opportunities across our State, including in more rural parts of Colorado. While that might not sound like a traditional role of a state Attorney General, when it comes to fighting for access to broadband Internet technology and building partnerships that support economic success, Phil is unique. Consider, for example, his leadership as the founding Board Secretary of the CareerWise Colorado Initiative that supports apprenticeship-based learning across the State to create opportunities for skilled jobs for those without a college degree.

To have an Attorney General with an innovative mindset will mean that the Colorado AG’s office will become an engine of policy development and new thinking on a range of issues. Take, for example, criminal justice policy where some states around the country—often with leadership from the AG’s office—are taking a hard look at whether they are getting a good return on the social investment in our criminal justice system. Today, we put more people in jail than any nation in the world. Nonetheless, we are not aggressively enough addressing alternatives to incarceration that cut down on prison sentences. We are not investing enough yet in programs that make it less likely that inmates end up back in prison after they are released, such as Defy Ventures. We continue to make bail decisions in a way that keeps people in jail who are not flight risks just because they cannot afford to pay a bail bond. To ensure Colorado a leader in moving towards a criminal justice system that keeps us safe and is smarter, we need an AG like Phil.

Finally, when Phil talks about protecting our quality of life and our environment, he is someone we can count on. The whiplash from President Obama’s commitment to fighting climate change issues to today’s situation where we have Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier as the head of the EPA, is hard to take. Closer to home, our current Attorney General joined Scott Pruitt in challenging President Obama’s leadership in this area. As our next Attorney General, Phil will be a leader on environmental protection—like Governor Hickenlooper, who created a national model for rules restricting methane emissions by working collaboratively with the oil and gas industry and environmentalists. If we fail to elect officials like Phil who will stand up for our environment, future generations will ask us how we stood by and failed to act.

A core lesson I took from Trump’s election last fall is that we must be active in supporting candidates who we believe in. It’s not often that I have an opportunity to support a leader like Phil. So when I do have that opportunity, I feel the need to make the most of it. As a consequence of a SEC rule under Dodd-Frank, I am not allowed to donate to Phil’s campaign, but I am free to use my voice to encourage others to do so.

From my long relationship working with Phil, I can assure you that it will be a great investment in Colorado’s future and will help Colorado continue to be a model for the nation. So I strongly encourage you to donate your time and money to his campaign.

Republished with permission. Original post:

Colorado Flag

What is the Martinez Case? Why Does It Matter for Colorado's Future?

For Colorado, the safe and responsible development of oil and gas is of paramount importance to our future. Fortunately, our state is led by Governor John Hickenlooper, who is committed to finding innovative solutions that promote responsible development while protecting important health and environmental concerns. Unfortunately, Governor Hickenlooper does not have a partner in the Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General’s appeal of the court of appeals’ decision in the Martinez case shows how Attorney General Coffman continually disregards Governor Hickenlooper’s call for pragmatic problem-solving, has refused to work collaboratively with others, and has failed to stand up for the interests of Coloradans. Indeed, this case would have never reached the Court of Appeals if the Attorney General had given the regulators proper legal advice in the first place.

The petition filed by the plaintiffs in the Martinez case asked the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission to stop issuing permits for oil and gas development until it found that such permits did not negatively impact the environment or contribute to climate change. Rather than considering the merits of the requested rule, the Commission, on the advice of the Attorney General, determined that it did not have the authority to consider the request. Attorney General Coffman’s advice was wrong and misread the statute. As a result of the Attorney General’s bad advice, she created an unnecessary legal issue and diverted the Commission from a thoughtful evaluation of the public concerns over the environmental impact of oil and gas development.

After considering the relevant legal issues, the Court of Appeals concluded that the Attorney General gave the Commission bad advice in the first place. In particular, it ruled that the Commission had the authority to consider the proposed rule because Colorado law “mandates that the development of oil and gas in Colorado be regulated subject to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.” As Governor Hickenlooper explained, the Court of Appeals’ ruling is aligned with the current practice of the Oil and Gas Commission. Therefore, the Governor was correct that there was no need to appeal the court’s ruling.

In the Martinez case, the court did not reach the issue of whether the approach suggested by the petitioner was an appropriate one. Consequently, that question remains within the Commission’s authority to consider. Consistent with the court’s opinion, the Commission should proceed to consider what rules are, and are not, appropriate to ensure responsible oil and gas development. With the benefit of the actual consideration of this issue, the courts could then evaluate whether the Commission’s actions follow the statutory standard. In this case, however, Attorney General Coffman mistakenly instructed the Commission that it lacked the authority to evaluate whether the petition should be granted and set the stage for an unnecessary and wasteful legal fight.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Attorney General Coffman provided incorrect advice, refused to work with the Governor on a key environmental issue, and acted to undermine the Governor’s environmental leadership. Attorney General Coffman previously undermined Colorado’s nationally praised rules for restricting methane emissions—which were reached through collaboration between the oil and gas industry and environmentalists—by suing the EPA when it was moving to adopt the Colorado model. Coffman also challenged President Obama’s Clean Power Plan initiative—over Governor Hickenlooper’s objection—even though Colorado’s clean energy policies positioned the state to comply with this plan. Finally, when Boulder County was in the final stages of adopting a new policy for allowing safe and appropriate oil and gas development, Attorney General Coffman chose to sue rather than work with the County to develop an appropriate policy.

In 2018, Coloradans will have the chance to select a new Attorney General. I am running to make sure that our next Attorney General will work with Colorado communities, environmentalists, and the oil and gas industry to ensure we enable safe and environmentally sound approaches to oil and gas development. In short, I want Colorado to be a national leader in using innovative, principled, and practical problem solving to address important issues.

Attorney General Coffman’s handling of this case—both at the outset and in appealing the Martinez decision—fails to advance sound policy or correctly interpret Colorado law. Instead, it is yet another example of a misguided lawsuit that undermines Colorado’s problem-solving attitude and our commitment to our environment and public health. Unfortunately, whenever there is a choice between collaborative, innovative, and thoughtful leadership or confrontation, our current Attorney General chooses confrontation. To support innovative leadership for our environment, please join our campaign and help Colorado remain a national model of environmental protection and responsible oil and gas development.

On Thursday, May 18, 2017, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman challenged Governor John Hickenlooper’s leadership on oil and gas regulation and appealed a lower court’s ruling in Martinez v. Colorado Oil and Gas Commission that the Oil and Gas Commission should take full account of environmental and safety concerns in regulating oil and gas development. In so doing, she created an unnecessary and wasteful legal controversy, endorsed a limited view of the Commission’s authority, and went against sound legal and policy principles. In this blog post, Phil explains the importance of the issue and how he would approach it as our next Attorney General. Please note that this post was revised on May 21, 2017 to reflect that Attorney General Coffman erred not only in handling the appeal, but in providing mistaken legal advice at the outset of this matter.

Phil Weiser

Protecting Freedom and Enabling Opportunity

Like many Coloradans, I am watching our government in Washington with outrage and with deep concern for the future of our country and our state.  Our constitutional and civic tradition of protecting freedom and enabling opportunity—and our Colorado way of life—is now at risk.  For my family, this American tradition is deeply personal; my mom and grandparents came to this country as refugees after my mom was born in a concentration camp in 1945.  My wife Heidi’s dad fled Germany on the last boat that made it to the United States—the one before the St. Louis, which was turned back.  Her parents, like mine, were the first in their families to go to college and, through hard work, both of our families have lived the American Dream.  As people who benefited from our country’s freedom and opportunity, we are inspired to fight for opportunities for all Coloradans and to protect our freedoms as our next Attorney General.

My life’s work is to help and support others.  Today, many Americans are worried that the American Dream is out of reach for them and that our government is responsible to the rich, the powerful, and the special interests.  To protect our democracy, we must end the corrupting force of dark money in politics (that is, unreported campaign spending), draw fair districts that promote competitive elections, and prevent voter suppression efforts.  

It is easy to be cynical or despair about the state of our politics.  But our constitutional democracy and economy has emerged from past challenges—and we can do so again, but only if we pull together.  With our changing economy, we need an Attorney General who cares deeply about protecting consumers, standing up against abuses, and making it easy for entrepreneurs to start businesses here.  Our entrepreneurial community is an incredible asset for our state and represents the Colorado ethic of working together, caring about each other, and innovating.  I am excited about taking those values into our state government.

I first came to Colorado in 1994 to begin my legal career here.  Like many of us adopted by this state, I fell in love with the great quality of life and natural environment here, but more importantly, I love how people here root for each other to succeed and are resourceful in finding ways to get things done.  As the Dean of the CU Law School, my deep concern for our students and commitment to innovation led me to raise the quality of the law school experience, advocate for employment opportunities, and decrease the level of average law school debt.  As a result, CU Law defied the national decline in law school applications (a 40% drop) and saw applications rise.  We succeeded by building successful partnerships with and earning recognition from leaders in the community, including the Colorado District Attorneys Association and the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association.  That same concern for others and innovative spirit guide my leadership in our entrepreneurial community, including my founding of Startup Colorado, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs’ Network, and the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship.  

Taking on a race for statewide office is a daunting task.  As I take this step, I am inspired by wonderful mentors, role models, and friends & family:

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose strong commitment to civil rights and equality remains an inspiration;
  • President Barack Obama, whose commitment to enabling opportunity and embracing the future is a model for our state and nation;
  • The many students and professionals I have worked with in Colorado, whose collaborative, caring, and innovative approach to problem solving makes our State special; and  
  • Most of all, I am inspired by my family, starting with my mom and dad, who taught me the importance of hard work; my wife, Heidi, whose commitment to helping others in her work (as a doctor) and in mine makes this campaign possible; and my kids, Aviva and Sammy, whose future is at stake as we fight for our freedoms and opportunities for all Coloradans.