‘We will become California’: Brauchler says Dems’ progressive ideology spurred switch to Colorado attorney general race

Author: Ernest Luning - November 14, 2017 - Updated: November 15, 2017

BrauchlerIn this Aug. 7, 2015, file photo, District Attorney George Brauchler speaks outside the Arapahoe County Courthouse in Centennial after the jury sentenced convicted Aurora theater shooter James Holmes to life in prison without parole. Brauchler announced Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, that he was suspending his campaign for governor and would be runnning instead for attorney general. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

When it came down to it, George Brauchler said it was the possibility Colorado could take a pronounced “lurch to the left” that persuaded him to drop his run for governor Monday and launch a campaign for attorney general.

After the Republican incumbent, Cynthia Coffman, announced last week that she was running for governor instead of a second term as attorney general, making official what she’d been suggesting for months, Brauchler said his phone exploded with calls and emails from people worried there wasn’t a Republican candidate for the office, with just under a year until the election.

“They all said we need someone who not only has the qualifications but has put together a statewide network and go up against a well-funded Democrat,” he told Colorado Politics on Monday in an extended interview.

Five Democrats are running for the office, and some of them have been raising money hand over fist, bringing in a combined $1.1 million between them, with one candidate, former University of Colorado law school dean Phil Weiser accounting for about three-quarters of that. (While Brauchler’s fundraising lagged in the last quarter, he had around $175,000 in the bank at the end of September, more than four times what Coffman reported on hand at the same point.)

“I spent days thinking about it, talking with campaign strategists, my family, friends and supporters,” said Brauchler, the district attorney for Arapahoe and Douglas counties and a colonel in the Colorado National Guard. “And I decided, I’m going to do this; I’m going to serve my state in the best capacity I can, in a way that I think is pivotal for the future.”

A “huge motivating factor,” he said, was a question he’s been asking recently at campaign events.

“It’s one thing to run the risk of a Gov. Jared Polis, but to have a Gov. Jared Polis and an Attorney General Joe Salazar? We will become California,” he said. “We will be the California they want to be then they grow up, we will have taken such a lurch to the left.”

He gave a short, incredulous laugh.

“These Democrats running for attorney general,” he said, “they are people who proudly proclaim themselves to be progressives and activists.”

He was referring to U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, one of five leading Democratic candidates for governor, and state Rep. Joe Salazar, one of the Democrats running for attorney general.

Republican gubernatorial candidates have been attacking Polis for months over his energy policies, including a campaign pledge that Colorado will be powered entirely by renewable energy by 2040. Brauchler and State Treasurer Walker Stapleton both called Polis’s proposal a death knell for the state’s oil and gas industry, along with hundreds of thousands of state jobs.

A Polis campaign spokeswoman rejected the charge, saying the congressman was “standing up for workers and protecting the health, safety, and jobs of Colorado families, not industry lobbyists.”

Salazar has staked out an even more aggressive stance, vowing to “fight for 100-percent renewable energies” during his two terms, which would run through 2026 if Salazar wins election next year. “We can’t wait for 2040,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Our environment and children need such leadership now more than ever.”

Brauchler said the prospect of Colorado’s governor and attorney general competing to see who can sideline fossil fuels the fastest was enough to get him to abandon the gubernatorial campaign he’s been running since April and launch a bid for attorney general.

“More than the governor,” Brauchler said, “the attorney general is uniquely focused on public safety as well.”

He said he wants to go after the “thriving and expanding” black market for marijuana and apply what he termed the attorney general’s unique tools to tackle the opioid addiction crisis, including regulatory and licensing authority over doctors, pharmacies and drug companies. The attorney general also plays a key role coordinating and supporting efforts to end human trafficking — an issue Coffman has made central to her administration, too.

“You’ve got to protect our water, the environment, the business community,” Brauchler said. “We need someone who can provide stability as well as commitment to our constitution and our laws, and not to some extreme, progressive ideology.”

When it comes to the attorney general’s relationship with the federal government, Brauchler said regardless who occupies the White House — whether it’s President Barack Obama or President Donald Trump — he would be “enthusiastic about standing up to a Washington, D.C., that would seek to impose its will on top of the state.”

That could mean clashing with the Trump administration over federal law enforcement when it comes to Colorado’s legalized marijuana — an issue where Coffman has also said she’ll stand up to the feds.

“I support the 10th Amendment and the will of Colorado’s voters,” Brauchler said, “so even if I strongly disagreed with legalizing marijuana — and I did — it’s my obligation as attorney general to stand up for the will of our voters. This is an issue for Coloradans to resolve.”

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.