Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler will compete for the Republican Party’s nomination for Colorado governor, he plans to announce Wednesday.
The energetic district attorney for the state’s largest jurisdiction gained prominence for several high-profile cases, including acting as the lead prosecutor in the case against Aurora theater shooter James Holmes.
Brauchler’s strong personality was highlighted during the case, in which the jury ultimately refused to sentence Holmes to die for killing 12 people and injuring at least 70.
“George Brauchler will be a very formidable candidate,” said Dick Wadhams, a GOP consultant and former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. “He’s been front and center in the public eye for several years now … and he’s got a great presence. He’s a great speaker.”
Colorado Politics sat down with Brauchler on Tuesday ahead of his Wednesday announcement, which has been building for several years. He teased the announcement on Tuesday with a Facebook video that said his campaign would be “coming soon.”
Years in the making
Brauchler rocketed into the political limelight in 2013 after criticizing Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for issuing a temporary stay of execution to convicted killer Nathan Dunlap.
“I remember being on the west steps of the Capitol, and that wasn’t scripted or pre-planned, I didn’t know what the governor was going to do before he did it,” Brauchler recalled of his frustration with Hickenlooper at the time.
“It brought some attention on me in a way that I hadn’t anticipated, not in a way that I could really plan for.”
Brauchler wasn’t ready to enter the gubernatorial race in 2014, as he had recently been elected the district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, which includes Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. Facing the Aurora theater case, Brauchler wanted to take a lead role.
“I couldn’t leave that to go chase some political ambition, so I did what I thought was the right thing to do in pursuing that case,” he said.
Pressure for Brauchler to seek higher office continued to build. He seriously considered running for U.S. Senate last year before deciding that his “ambitions didn’t lie in Washington, D.C.”
“I have a passion for this state. This is the only place I’ve ever known as home,” Brauchler said, noting that he was educated in Colorado through law school, which he attended at the University of Colorado.
A background in military, law and ‘leadership’
He was recently promoted to colonel in the Colorado Army National Guard. Part of his responsibility includes training state and military prosecutors worldwide.
Brauchler is the former chief of military justice for northern Iraq, which he described as “tens of thousands of square miles of thankless dust and sand.”
Taking a shot at Hickenlooper, Brauchler said the state has lacked leadership for the past six years. “Affability is not a substitute for leadership, and I think I can bring something to this position that will allow us to move forward,” he said.
“What we need is someone who is willing to spend political capital for the betterment of the state of Colorado and our community.”
Brauchler believes the state is “on the precipice of a meltdown” over transportation and education, areas of the state budget that are “being crowded out by this ballooning and failing Obamacare, where we’ve tripled the size of Medicaid,” he said.
Acknowledging that he can be driven by emotion, Brauchler said, “Show me someone that isn’t driven by excellence or to do bigger and better things by their passion, and I’m going to show you a dud of a person.”
“My passion helps drive me, but it’s not a reckless passion, it’s not one that I cannot control – it spurs me on to do bigger and better things.”
Competing in a competitive GOP field
Brauchler will likely face a crowded Republican field, which could lead to a bitter and divisive primary. Also expected to announce a run for governor on the Republican ticket is state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.
DaVita Healthcare Partners chief executive Kent Thiry is also said to be considering a run for governor on the Republican ticket, as is former U.S. Senate candidate and Colorado State University athletic director Jack Graham.
Former Republican state Rep. Victor Mitchell has already launched a campaign.
A total of four Republicans have so far filed paperwork to run.
Democrats are facing a primary with former state Sen. Mike Johnston already in the race. Johnston reported a record-breaking fundraising period, with at least $625,000 for the first quarter of 2017.
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, is also expected to announce a run for governor on the Democratic ticket. And former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy is seriously considering it as well.
Democrat Noel Ginsburg, a Denver manufacturing entrepreneur and civic leader, has declared his candidacy in the 2018 gubernatorial race.
A total of five Democrats have filed paperwork.
Fifteen candidates have so far filed to run in the 2018 gubernatorial race. In addition to the major party candidates, there is one Green Party candidate, one American Constitution Party candidate, a Unity Party candidate and three unaffiliated candidates.
Brauchler believes he will emerge as the true conservative candidate of the field, though he doesn’t believe Colorado voters are looking for political labels. Unaffiliated voters are likely to participate in next year’s primary after voters in November backed a ballot initiative to that effect.
“We don’t subscribe to the same value set necessarily as those sea level Republicans out there on the coast …” Brauchler said. “We’re a state that believes in self-determination; we’re a state that believes in freedom.”
He said of a tight primary, “It is important that voters weigh me against those other potential candidates … I don’t think that requires us to throw punches at each other, especially when any one of those people I would take over the alternative, which is the folks from the Democratic Party.”
Wadhams added, “It makes for better candidates and better campaigns.”