Can­di­dates for Colorado AG dif­fer on of­fice du­ties

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ben Botkin

Colorado’s next at­tor­ney gen­eral will in­herit a law­suit the state filed against an opi­oid man­u­fac­turer that seeks dam­ages for the state’s painkiller ad­dic­tion epi­demic.

Phil Weiser, the Demo­cratic can­di­date, wants to put the money from any set­tle­ment or award to­ward drug treat­ment pro­grams. Ge­orge Brauch­ler, the Repub­li­can can­di­date, says state law­mak­ers should de­cide where the money goes.

The con­trast un­der­scores the two can­di­dates’ dif­fer­ing ap­proaches to the role that the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral should play in craft­ing pol­icy that im­pacts Colorado res­i­dents.

Brauch­ler, a ca­reer pros­e­cu­tor,

prefers to let state law­mak­ers and the gover­nor’s of­fice set pol­icy and bud­gets.

Weiser, a for­mer pol­icy ad­viser in the Obama White House, is com­fort­able us­ing the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice to in­flu­ence pol­icy.

The dif­fer­ence will de­fine the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the next at­tor­ney gen­eral, who will suc­ceed out­go­ing Repub­li­can At­tor­ney Gen­eral Cyn­thia Coff­man.

At a re­cent de­bate, Weiser listed fed­eral is­sues he’s will­ing to get in­volved in as at­tor­ney gen­eral. They in­clude chal­leng­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s prac­tice of sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies that ar­rive at the bor­der, pro­tect­ing the fed­eral Af­ford­able Care Act and chal­leng­ing the de­por­ta­tion of Dream­ers — im­mi­grants with le­gal sta­tus un­der the De­ferred Ac­tion on Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram that was cre­ated un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Im­mi­grants are en­ti­tled to due process,” Weiser said. The Af­ford­able Care Act, he said, is needed be­cause it pro­tects peo­ple with pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions.

Brauch­ler has a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

“One of the things you have to con­sider when you de­cide who wants to be an ac­tivist and who wants to be an at­tor­ney gen­eral is what stand­ing do you have to take up these is­sues?” he said, adding that an at­tor­ney gen­eral can­not pick and choose what fed­eral poli­cies to op­pose.

Brauch­ler said peo­ple want­ing to change fed­eral law should elect a new pres­i­dent or mem­ber of Congress, not ex­pect an at­tor­ney gen­eral to be­come a “rogue war­rior.”

The Repub­li­can said he would fight the fed­eral govern­ment when it is threat­en­ing to in­fringe on state sovereignty. For ex­am­ple, that means de­fend­ing Amend­ment 64, which Colorado vot­ers passed in 2012 to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana, he said.

The can­di­dates’ starkly dif­fer­ent philoso­phies might stem from their dif­fer­ent ca­reer paths.

Brauch­ler, 48, the dis­trict at­tor­ney in the 18th Ju­di­cial Dis­trict, pros­e­cuted the Aurora theater shooter. A colonel in the Colorado Army Na­tional Guard, he was chief of mil­i­tary jus­tice for the 4th In­fantry Di­vi­sion in Tikrit, Iraq, su­per­vis­ing other mil­i­tary at­tor­neys while de­ployed.

Weiser, 50, is a for­mer dean of the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado Law School and clerked for two U.S. Supreme Court jus­tices, By­ron White and Ruth Bader Gins­burg. He also worked on an­titrust cases in the U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice and was a pol­icy ad­viser in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

William F. Robin­son III, an 89­year­old Den­ver at­tor­ney, is run­ning on the Lib­er­tar­ian ticket.

The next at­tor­ney gen­eral will be in charge of a mul­ti­di­men­sional op­er­a­tion. The of­fice has about 480 em­ploy­ees and a bud­get of $83.5 mil­lion. The du­ties are wide­rang­ing and in­clude both civil and crim­i­nal law. The of­fice pro­vides le­gal ad­vice to the gover­nor and state agen­cies.

The of­fice doesn’t han­dle run­of­the­mill crim­i­nal cases; that’s the job of the state’s 22 dis­trict at­tor­neys. But the of­fice can pros­e­cute cases, par­tic­u­larly if they are com­plex and in­volve mul­ti­ple ju­ris­dic­tions. These can in­clude drug and hu­man traf­fick­ing. Crim­i­nal ap­peals also go through the of­fice.

The of­fice is in­volved in con­sumer pro­tec­tion is­sues such as fi­nan­cial fraud and Med­i­caid fraud.

On the civil side, at­tor­neys han­dle var­ied cases: Util­ity reg­u­la­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal law and em­ploy­ment law are all part of the of­fice’s work­load.

With two very dif­fer­ent at­tor­neys run­ning for of­fice, the con­trast is sharp.

“I have been in charge of govern­ment lawyers and run a $23 mil­lion bud­get with 225 to­tal staff,” Brauch­ler said.

In ad­di­tion, he said, his job re­quires de­ci­sion­mak­ing on a se­ri­ous level ev­ery day, some­times on cases in­volv­ing life or death. For him, that ex­pe­ri­ence is needed in the AG’s of­fice.

“The at­tor­ney gen­eral is on the hook for mak­ing de­ci­sions about when and how to ex­er­cise this mas­sive state author­ity,” he said.

At times, Brauch­ler calls Weiser “the pro­fes­sor.”

But Weiser notes that run­ning CU’s law school in­cluded manag­ing a $25 mil­lion bud­get, 60 fac­ulty, 60 ad­junct fac­ulty, 60 staff and about 500 stu­dents. While there, he also founded Sil­i­con Flatirons, a cen­ter that fo­cuses on tech­nol­ogy pol­icy and en­trepreneur­ship with con­fer­ences and other events.

“I be­lieve we need a cre­ative prob­lem solver and an in­no­va­tor,” Weiser said. “So I’m not go­ing to lean back and wait for the state to get sued. I’m go­ing to lean in and ask, ‘How do I help the peo­ple of Colorado?’ ”

Weiser said he’d be a check against un­con­sti­tu­tional poli­cies that rise from the fed­eral level. “It is the state AGs who have said core civil rights are an is­sue,” he said. “I would be work­ing to pro­tect our con­sti­tu­tional rights.”

With is­sues like the opi­oid law­suit, he is clear about his in­ten­tions.

“If the leg­is­la­ture were of a mind to di­vert that money away from the proper pur­pose, I would fight as hard as I could to keep it to ba­si­cally help vic­tims of a cri­sis,” Weiser said.

He also points to his ex­pe­ri­ence as a se­nior ad­viser for tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, where he worked closely with Aneesh Cho­pra, then the chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer at the White House. In that role, they looked at is­sues such as mod­ern­iz­ing the elec­tric grid and pri­vacy pro­tec­tions in the dig­i­tal age.

In an in­ter­view, Cho­pra said Weiser’s ex­pe­ri­ence there would be a ben­e­fit in the Colorado at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice and “clearly re­sult in more eco­nomic growth and more con­sumer pro­tec­tions.”

For ex­am­ple, Weiser wants to drive a con­ver­sa­tion about ac­cess to broad­band in ru­ral Colorado. Brauch­ler, while not op­posed to ru­ral broad­band, doesn’t view that as part of the of­fice’s job. In­stead, it’s to let state pol­i­cy­mak­ers craft pro­pos­als and let his of­fice weigh in on whether they pass con­sti­tu­tional and le­gal muster, he said.

On the other hand, Brauch­ler’s sup­port­ers say his work with crime vic­tims in high­pro­file cases would serve him well in the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice. Theresa Hoover, the mother of Aurora theater shoot­ing vic­tim Jonathan “A.J.” Boik, said Brauch­ler was “very ap­proach­able” through­out the shooter’s trial.

“He was al­ways mak­ing sure that we knew what was go­ing on,” she said. “He called all of us and asked for our opin­ion on what we thought about how he was do­ing.”

One of these can­di­dates — Phil Weiser or Ge­orge Brauch­ler — will set the tone for the Colorado At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice for the next four years.

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