What Does the State Attorney General Do?

It’s hard to explain why the Attorney General’s office matters so much when many people wonder what the AG does in the first place.  Let me take this opportunity to clarify what this office does and why Coloradans need to elect a new AG in 2018.

For starters, our AG leads the way when the federal government acts out of step with our best interests and our values. After the Trump Administration tried to ban immigration on the basis of religion, a number of brave AGs stood up to the federal government to defend our constitutional rights. Our AG also stops companies from cheating consumers and protects our State’s land, water, and air. Finally, in what I have made a central part of my life’s work, our AG should lead the fight for opportunity and innovation to ensure a bright future for all Coloradans. I’m running for Attorney General of the State of Colorado because I want to work for Coloradans and because I believe in the promise and potential of this office.

The Attorney General Works for You

Not so long ago, races for Attorney General didn’t get much attention or support. But the Republican Party has changed that. Funded by the Koch Brothers and others, the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) has targeted AG races around the country to move their agenda, even in progressive states. Here’s proof that the office of State Attorney General matters, and the Republicans know it: in Colorado’s last AG election, RAGA put five times as much money into the race as Cynthia Coffman raised herself. That’s part of a nation-wide trend. In 2000, Republicans only held 12 of the 51 AG positions. Today, they control 29 of them! Republican AGs–and those funding their campaigns through RAGA–recognize the power of leading the Attorney General’s office.

Why make the effort to win AGs races?    Because the Attorney General’s office can either be a powerful engine for protecting people or be used in counterproductive ways. Led by an innovative and committed AG, the office defends our constitutional freedoms (like the challenges we’ve seen to the Trump administration from AGs around the country), stands up for consumers when their homes are foreclosed on illegally, and protects our land, air, and water from polluters. Sadly, in Colorado, the AG office is not focused on solving problems or serving all Coloradans. Instead, our current AG, Cynthia Coffman, is wasting time and money filing suits that make a political statement, such as the one against Boulder County for its management of oil and gas development.

The Attorney General Upholds American Values on the State Level and Beyond

For those of us who are angered by the developments in Washington, we need leadership at the state level to represent our values. During a time when President Trump has proposed an illegal travel ban and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently raised sentences for non-violent drug offenders, it is the States–and not the Congress–who are providing a check on Presidential power and overreach.  In particular, the State AGs are leading the fight to preserve our cherished American values and, with new leadership in the Colorado AG’s office, we can stand up to what is happening in Washington and make Colorado a model for the nation.

I will fight for our constitutional rights because our freedoms are deeply personal to me. I am the first in my family to be born an American citizen; my mom was born in a concentration camp at the end of World War II and came to this country for its freedoms and opportunity when she was six. Early in my career, I worked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when the Supreme Court struck down Colorado’s anti-gay law (Amendment 2) and when women were first admitted to the Virginia Military Institute. So I welcome the opportunity to vigorously defend our civil rights, including those of women, LGBTQ individuals, and immigrants.

The Attorney General Protects Our Natural Resources

 As your next Attorney General, I will continue Colorado’s leadership on protecting our land, air, and water. I will also reject U.S. EPA head Scott Pruitt’s denial of climate change and agenda to undermine U.S. international leadership to protect our planet. Instead, I’ll defend rules we have recently developed to address methane emissions during oil and gas development, and I’ll follow Ken Salazar’s example of reinvigorating environmental enforcement at the Colorado AG’s office. When Ken was our AG, 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. And Ken Salazar has endorsed me in this race because he believes I am the best candidate to do just that.

The Attorney General Fights for Opportunities for All

I worked with President Obama in the aftermath of the Great Recession to make life better for all Americans, and I’ll be an AG who fights for opportunities for all Coloradans. Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked hard to build an environment where Colorado entrepreneurs can create new companies, where all Coloradans have access to broadband Internet service, and where, even without a college degree, Coloradans can have access to good-paying jobs.  That’s why I am a founding Board member and Board Secretary of CareerWise Colorado, which is pioneering an apprenticeship-based education model here in Colorado.  As your AG, I will continue this leadership, with a powerful platform, the ability to work with leaders around the State, and a commitment to making Colorado a model for the US.

Join Me

I can’t lead the Attorney General’s office without your help. Please join me in convincing all Coloradans of the importance of electing a new AG in 2018. I am delighted by the support we are getting from around the state, but we need more help to make this campaign successful. Please email info@philforcolorado.com to join us.

With the Koch Brothers poised to contribute substantially to defeat me, I need real people willing to make contributions to support my campaign. Every dollar counts and I welcome your support at philforcolorado.com/donate-to-phil. Thanks for joining me in this journey. It matters.

Tim Wirth

Guest Commentary: Tim Wirth - The Battle for the Rule of Law and What Comes Next

I first ran for Congress in 1974 in the wake of the “Watergate scandal.” The scandal was not about a botched burglary at a Washington hotel. Rather, the malfeasance by President Nixon and White House associates raised serious questions about the integrity of the democratic institutions and rule of law that have historically made the United States of America an example to the world.

After the campaigning was done, it became clear that the American people voted for a new generation of leaders to help repair and reform our democracy. And that is what those of us elected to Congress did. Together, we championed the rule of law and brought about historic reforms that made government more transparent and more accountable to the people. We initiated campaign finance reforms, consumer protections and other initiatives intended to advance the economic, environmental, and security interests of the American people.

Today, we confront a similar crisis around the rule of law and a similar opportunity for civic renewal. As the actions of the Trump Administration remind us, we cannot take our constitutional freedoms for granted and our democracy depends on active citizens and responsible leaders. That is why I am pleased to see new leaders stepping up to run for office for the first time, as I did in 1974.

One important leader we can support in Colorado is Phil Weiser. Since coming to Colorado in 1994, Phil has served our community and nation well. At the University of Colorado Law School, he has mentored hundreds of lawyers and helped launch the careers of young men and women from all backgrounds across our State, and he has served with distinction in important positions in the federal government. Now, Phil is running to be the next Attorney General for Colorado, a job which is more important than ever. He deserves our strong support.

As our next Attorney General, Phil will fight for our constitutional freedoms, for working people against special interests, for the rule of law and a vibrant democracy. When Ken Salazar was our Attorney General, he stopped an unconstitutional effort to gerrymander our congressional districts. Ken has endorsed Phil’s candidacy, and I know that Phil will be a leader, like Ken, in protecting our democracy from gerrymandering and voter suppression, and working to end the corrupting influence of “dark” undisclosed money in our politics. I believe he will be a leader of the national effort to overrule Citizen’s United, which undid—by judicial activism—some of the campaign reform efforts we passed after Watergate.

When I was in Congress, I fought hard to support the antitrust lawsuit helped break-up the AT&T telephone monopoly and to encourage competition in the telecommunications industry. While serving in the Department of Justice and President Obama’s White House, Phil fought for enhanced competition and innovation to give consumers better services at lower prices. In Colorado, he is a recognized and respected leader in our technology community, supporting the innovators and entrepreneurs who are bringing good-paying jobs to our State. At a time when the federal government cannot be counted on to fight for competition and consumers, we need an Attorney General like Phil who will stand up for our interests.

Finally, Phil will be a leader in protecting Colorado’s land, air, and water. President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords is contrary to America's international standing, economic, and security interests, and our legacy of leadership around the world. In the face of this shameful abdication of moral responsibility to future generations, it is incumbent upon states and localities to protect our planet and address climate change. Unfortunately, Colorado’s current AG, Cynthia Coffman, has sided with climate change deniers, the fossil fuel industry, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to challenge the Obama Administration’s clean energy agenda and has undermined Governor John Hickenlooper’s leadership on restricting methane from oil and gas extraction. We deserve better leadership from our AG. Phil Weiser will provide it.

We are living in scary and challenging times. As Benjamin Franklin said upon leaving the Constitutional Convention, “you have a republic, as long as you can keep it.” In the next election cycle, as in 1974, we have the opportunity to revitalize our civic institutions and elect leaders who care deeply about our values, our Colorado traditions, and our democracy—and who can fight for them effectively. Phil is just that type of leader. I urge you to join me in supporting his campaign in any way you can.

Phil Weiser - Denver Announcement Tour 3

Announcement Tour Reflections

Over the last week, I had the pleasure of traveling across our beautiful state for my announcement tour for Attorney General for Colorado. A highlight was that former students joined me at every stop. My daughter Aviva concluded after one event, “Daddy, you helped so many people over the years, and now they want to help you.”

The support for my candidacy is energizing. As I announced at the Denver Launch Party, we exceeded more than 1,000 likes on our Facebook site and raised $100,000 in two weeks.

The campaign road is long. During my travels, the energy of this announcement tour will continue to inspire me in the months ahead. I welcome and appreciate your engagement and support as I discuss with Coloradans how to defend our freedoms, fight for opportunities for all, and protect our land, water, and air.

I am pleased to share with you some of my discussions and experiences from this first campaign tour across Colorado. I look forward to keeping up this dialogue, and hope to see you on the road soon.

Over the Luna in Pueblo

Our Announcement Tour kicked off in Pueblo, Colorado, at the old Pueblo County Courthouse. Jeff Chostner, the very impressive Pueblo County DA, joined us for the event. Jeff’s innovative problem-solving attitude exemplifies how Colorado leaders can approach challenging issues, ranging from economic development to the opioid epidemic. Jeff and I met when I worked with the Colorado District Attorney’s Council to develop a rural DA fellowship program, which provides valuable support to rural offices and meaningful work opportunities for recent law school graduates. Jeff currently has a fellow working with him in his office.

After the Courthouse speech, we joined the graduation party for Josh Luna, Colorado Law Class of 2017. The celebration captured the American Dream I am fighting for—Josh and his sister Tonya were raised by amazing parents and are off to great starts in their legal careers. More than their academic and professional success, Josh and Tonya’s concern for others reflects Colorado Law at its best. Adding a special touch to the celebration, Josh and Tonya’s grandmother, Stella, who served as Otero County’s clerk for over 20 years, was able to join the celebration.

Principled and Innovative Leadership

Our Colorado Springs visit featured a couple of highlights. First, my son Sammy asked a question from the crowd—totally unprompted—on how would I approach a proposed law like Texas’s “Religious Refusal” measure, which restricts adoption rights based on religion. Such a law, I explained to Sammy, violates our Constitution’s commitment to freedom of religion and I would fight to protect that freedom from any threat. Another highlight was the discussion on how to improve our criminal justice system with Representative Pete Lee, the Chair of the Judiciary Committee and a leader on this issue, and Cassady Adams (Colorado Law Class of 2016 and now a DA in the 11th Judicial District). In particular, we considered the best strategies for ensuring that bail decisions are set appropriately based on risk, and that individuals who do not pose a flight risk are eligible for bail even if they are not able to afford a bail bond.

Fighting for Opportunity for All Coloradans

At my talk in Glenwood Springs, I noted the statistic highlighted by my friend Ryan Heckman that more than half of Front Range residents are pleased with their job opportunities compared to only 35 percent of individuals living in the Western Slope. For Colorado, with its tradition of community and a can-do attitude, this presents a call to action. It means that we must work to ensure that the ingredients of a strong economy are in place for all Coloradans, including first-class infrastructure (including broadband Internet access), effective educational opportunities, and the fair treatment of consumers. And to fulfill our potential, we must protect our land, water, and air vigilantly. The Glenwood Post Independent article on my talk captured these priorities clearly.

The local leaders who joined us in Glenwood Springs, including those in the Pitkin and Garfield County Democratic Party, underscored the importance of connecting with all parts of Colorado during our campaign. This message also came through during a subsequent happy hour in Eagle County and my talk at the Mountain Connect Conference, which focuses on enabling robust broadband Internet access in all parts of Colorado. And my commitment to Ken Salazar’s brand of leadership, which emphasizes this statewide engagement, is a part of why he has endorsed me in this race.

On Maintaining Accessibility

Back in Denver, I spoke to a local House District meeting and at our campaign’s Announcement Launch Party. At the local meeting, Representative James Coleman asked whether I would remain accessible to Coloradans after I was elected. During my time in the White House under President Obama, as well as my time as Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, I explained, I made accessibility and responsiveness a fundamental commitment of my leadership. A couple of former students present at this event reinforced this message, explaining their own experiences with my engagement with them.

At the Denver Launch Party, nearly 150 people came to support my campaign. The amount of support has been nothing short of overwhelming and I feel great responsibility to honor the generous enthusiasm supporters have shown. To that end, I promise that I will take this journey very seriously, working hard to learn from Coloradans around the State and demonstrate my commitment to new leadership in our Attorney General’s office that can help make Colorado a model for the U.S. If you have suggestions for my future visits across the State, I welcome them at phil@philforcolorado.com.

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: http://www.feld.com/archives/2017/05/phil-weiser-colorado-attorney-general.html

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.