Democratic candidate for Attorney General, Phil Weiser, talks about wanting to be ‘the people’s lawyer’ in Colorado
July 17, 2018
Phil Weiser, a former dean of University of Colorado Law School and former Obama justice department official, is the Democratic candidate for Colorado Attorney General. Weiser spoke to the Summit Daily on Tuesday during a campaign stop in town.
Summit Daily: Abandoned mines in Summit County have been polluting waterways with toxic materials for over a century. How do you intend to address this and other concerns about big polluters in Colorado?
Phil Weiser: I base my platform on pursuing what is best for the people of Colorado and protecting our land, air and water is a critical part of that platform. If what we're doing is just waiting until disaster, like the Gold King mine disaster that turned an entire river red, we are not doing our duty as a state to protect our residents. I will make sure that owners of toxic mining claims are complying with obligations under state and federal law, as well as pursue remediation and other strategies before we get to a disaster.
Summit Daily: What is your approach to the issue of gun violence, especially when it comes to protecting schools? What do you think of the idea of arming teachers?
Weiser: Most gun owners want background checks that work to get guns out of the hands of the wrong people, and I agree with them. This is not something that should be seen as being against gun owners, as plenty of gun owners are in favor of common-sense gun laws. As far as protecting schools, when I talk to kids in high schools, the top question I get asked is how to keep them safe from gun violence. I don't think arming teachers is the proper approach, as that is not something teachers are asking for and it isn't a role they should have forced on them. But we do need to continue our conversation about improving security in schools, including increasing security presence and finding ways to fund those measures.
Summit Daily: If all three Democrats — you, congressional candidate Joe Neguse, and gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis — get elected, how can the public be sure you will all retain independence of your individual positions and not be subject to party influence? How do you respond to possible accusations of being part of a group of the political "elite" establishment?
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Weiser: First of all, to call me or Joe Neguse "elite" blows up the idea of what this country is all about. Our story is the story of the American dream. I come from a family of Holocaust survivors – my grandparents were both in concentration camps and my grandmother gave birth to my mother in a concentration camp. I'm the first member of my family to go to college, as is Joe. I have worked hard for all my accomplishments, and I have a hard time accepting the label "elite." If anyone says the word "entitled," they're not talking about me.
As far as independence, I am all about the commitment to the job of Attorney General and acting with integrity and responsibilities to the job, which means defending and enforcing our laws. If that means I'm enforcing laws against people I am friendly with, I won't hesitate.
Summit Daily: How do you distinguish yourself from your opponent in November, District Attorney George Brauchler?
Weiser: First is openness and transparency. In a Denver Post report it was revealed that Brauchler had a practice in the 18th Judicial District of routinely sealing felony cases from public view. They didn't even know how many. That's contrary to the Founding Fathers' vision of openness of criminal proceedings. If the government does seal records from the public and media, it must be for a compelling purpose and not as the default approach.
Second, Brauchler talks about this job in terms of criminal prosecution. But less than 10 percent of what the attorney general does is criminal prosecution. The bread and butter of the Attorney General's office is consumer protection, health care, water rights and constitutional issues. What we need from state's top lawyer is the range of legal expertise to make the Attorney General's office an engine of progress and having worked at the Justice Department, at the Supreme Court and as dean of a law school, I believe I have that range of expertise and experience.
Finally, I am far more concerned about protecting democracy than Brauchler seems to be. There's going to be a lot of dark money entering this race from outside the state, and it's part of the same problems with gerrymandering and voter suppression. We should have a law requiring all dark money donors to be disclosed, and I will fight for that law and do what I can to help overturn Citizens United.