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Attorney general candidates show off “water chops” to Water Congress

Author: Marianne Goodland - August 24, 2018 - Updated: September 10, 2018

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WeiserPhil Weiser, former dean of the University of Colorado Law School, speaks at the state Democratic Assembly in Broomfield in April.
(Photo by Andy Colwell/Colorado Politics)

VAIL — Candidates for Colorado attorney general flaunted their “water chops” at the annual meeting of the Colorado Water Congress this week.

On Wednesday Republican George Brauchler became the first in a parade of candidates for top state offices to address the summer conference. Brauchler is the district attorney for the 18th Judicial District. He’s running against Democratic candidate Phil Weiser, dean of the CU law school, who addressed the gathering Thursday.

On his website, Brauchler’s view of water focuses on defending the state’s water “from the perpetually and increasingly thirsty downhill states who want to renegotiate our water compact law to Colorado’s detriment.”

“Not on my watch,” it concludes.

Brauchler described the job he hopes to win in November, telling conference attendees that the attorney general is chief enforcer of laws, rules and regulations and — in a nod to the audience — “protector of natural resources.”

If elected attorney general, Brauchler said he would fight against encroachment by the federal government on Colorado water, such as the Obama administration Waters of the USA rule that the Trump administration is attempting to rescind.

“We are better at managing our resources,” Braucher said.

Brauchler also touted his ability to negotiate, a skill he believes would come in handy during discussions about a potential compact call from the lower Colorado River states for more water, should he be elected.

The ability to negotiate in good faith on water, conservation, those things matter. You need a skilled, experienced, confident hand,” he said.

Throughout at least the last three gubernatorial administrations, the governor of the state and the attorney general have been from different political parties. Both Weiser and Brauchler were asked how they would work with a governor who’s not from their party.

“We are a state about balance,” Brauchler responded. “My obligation is to the law and the Colorado Constitution, and not to advance my personal views on policy.”

Weiser’s website includes several essays on the role of the attorney general with regard to Colorado water.

“Because of climate change and the projected growth that will take place in Colorado over the decades ahead, we need innovative leadership to protect, conserve and manage our water,” the website states. “I will bring innovation to the office of attorney general, and that includes leadership on water as a top priority.”

Weiser responded that he would work professionally and collaboratively with a governor of the opposite party.

“The Constitution makes it clear,” he said. “The attorney general is the lawyer for the executive branch. That’s a duty I would take seriously. … The level of contentiousness between our attorney general’s office and the governor today is not how we want to be in Colorado. It’s not true to our Constitution. If there are differences on policy matters, I will also tell the governor that it isn’t a smart way to handle it, but it won’t stop me from providing fair and thoughtful legal advice.”

In his remarks, Weiser noted that the current Colorado Supreme Court has no water law experts since the retirements of Justices Gregory Hobbs and Rebecca Love Kourlis. The Water Congress has, in the past, advocated for candidates in water law to fill those positions.

That lack has made the job of the attorney general’s office that much more important on water issues, he said.

Among the challenges facing Colorado are negotiations tied to the Colorado River compact, known as the 2007 interim guidelines, Weiser said. Those guidelines govern how much water the lower Colorado River states must give up in a critical shortage, which is looming with low water levels at Lake Mead in northern Arizona.

Weiser also addressed questions about his position on several ballot measures, notably Initiative 108, which would require the government to compensate private landowners when their land is devalued, and Initiative 97, which would set a 2,500-foot setback for new oil and gas operations. Weiser said he was concerned about both ballot measures.

“We need to manage the challenge of oil and gas development,” Weiser said, adding he would be an attorney general who crafts solutions.

Weiser pledged to make water a top priority if elected attorney general. Water is foundational for Colorado, he said. “This is not an issue for the attorney general to ‘mail in.'”

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.