There’s a lot more at stake than you might think in the AG’s race
Author: Roger Hudson - November 6, 2017 - Updated: November 6, 2017
It appears everybody wants to be governor — but where are the strong conservative constitutionalists lining up to be Colorado’s next attorney general?
For those not keeping track, there are 12 candidates currently elbow to elbow in the crowded race to be Colorado’s next governor. Don’t blink, that number could soon grow to 13 if Cynthia Coffman does as rumored and throws her teal-colored fedora into the race.
Checking the gubernatorial scorecard, that makes seven Republican hopefuls and zero teed-up to become Colorado’s next “top cop.”
In part, Coffman herself is responsible for the lack of Republican candidates on the field. Her delayed decision to run for re-election or for governor has kept the handful of qualified “right thinking” candidates sidelined. None want to appear mercenary enough to challenge an incumbent from the same party in a primary.
You also can allot some of the blame to the fact that most people don’t understand what it is that an attorney general actually does. The title itself — attorney general — conjures a vision for many of a cross between Perry Mason and General Patton. Even Democratic AG candidate and state legislator Joe Salazar gets it wrong when he refers to the exclusive role of attorney general as “the people’s lawyer.” Truth is, whoever sits behind that desk is actually the state’s lawyer – sort of.
Gov. Hickenlooper was also “confused.” He landed in the state’s Supreme Court after asserting that Attorney General Coffman couldn’t independently sue the Obama administration without his blessing. Hickenlooper asked the court to pick which of them has the final authority in lawsuits filed against the feds. Justices eventually denied the governor’s petition and the attorney general exercised her Constitutionally granted authority to act in the best interests — as she sees it — of the state of Colorado.
The state’s attorney general has a vital role to play as an advocate, chief law enforcement officer, consumer watchdog, regulatory agent, protector of our natural resources and being the state’s attorney. While the job of managing the state’s largest law firm has immense constitutional powers, the AG also defines priorities and legal positions that can affect the state for generations.
Why does that matter?
Attorney General Coffman correctly pushed back against an overreaching White House that was determined to weaken states’ rights, mandate unlawful federal policy, control Colorado’s natural resources and limit many of our citizens’ constitutionally granted rights. The courts agreed with her legal assertions time after time. My Republican friends should ask themselves if former Democratic AG Ken Salazar would have sued President Obama on your behalf or instead met him for a few beers as Gov. Hickenlooper did.
The vast independent authority of the Office of Attorney General makes it imperative that it’s led by a principled jurist who will fight — not to defend any single political point of view — but the perpetual rule of law.
Nearly four years ago, I remember sitting across from then-Attorney General John Suthers and asking, “So why do you oppose same-sex marriage?”
This was a hot topic in April of 2014, and I was still reporting — doing a story about why Suthers had asked the Colorado Supreme Court to stop county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The left was outraged by what they perceived as nothing more than ideological interference by a conservative Republican.
Answering my questions directly, the attorney general revealed not an opposition to gay marriage but a principled respect and admiration for our Rule of Law. “I understand the sense of inevitability that same-sex couples could soon be allowed to legally wed in Colorado. But we simply cannot, as a matter of respect for the Rule of Law, ignore the processes by which our laws are changed.”
By October, the U.S. Supreme Court had resolved the question of same-sex marriage, Suthers had lifted his remaining legal objections, Colorado couples were being legally wed and I had become enamored with the practicality of the rule of law.
A pure, yet ultimately elegant understanding that — as the attorney general of Colorado — his office couldn’t be swayed by emotions or fickle public opinion. The law was the law and it would be our governing principle until it was changed. If not, there would be no rule of law at all.
With both Democrats and Republicans currently salivating over the governor’s office, it’s easy to understand the excitement concerning this political horse race. The stakes are indeed high with each political faction imagining a clearly different future for Colorado. But consider — whoever is eventually elected governor — who will protect our state’s legal interests? Who will you trust to litigate on behalf of our schools, churches, industries, consumers and communities?
The question you should be asking is this: If Colorado elects a governor whose goal is to wage war against the energy sector, legal gun ownership, private property rights, school choice, personal car ownership or your personal liberty, who will mount that legal challenge — a liberal or a conservative?