Six candidates running against each other for three statewide offices in the Nov. 6 election touted their experience during a group debate Saturday evening in Colorado Springs hosted by The Gazette, Colorado Politics and TV station KOAA News5.
For more than an hour, candidates for attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer debated each other at the Garden Pavilion at the Penrose House Conference Center. Their debate preceded a one-on-one between the two major-party candidates running for governor.
At nearly every turn, candidates highlighted their personal experience and sold themselves as the right person for their respective post. The evening began with Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser and his Republican opponent, George Brauchler, disagreeing on the position’s job description.
“What we need from an attorney general is a broad base of experience,” Weiser led off.
He is a former University of Colorado Law School dean and official in the Department of Justice under Presidents Obama and Clinton.
Only about 10 percent of the attorney general’s responsibilities surrounds criminal prosecution, Weiser said. Among his other priorities are consumer protection, the opioid epidemic and protecting the rights of Coloradans.
Brauchler countered that with his courtroom experience, saying it puts him in a better position to defend the rights of Colorado and Coloradans.
“I’ve handled cases at every single level of government. Municipal, state, federal and military,” he said.
Brauchler is serving his second term as district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, which includes Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
Questions of experience also arose with the treasurer and secretary of state candidates.
Republican treasurer candidate Brian Watson, a professional real estate investor, said his business savvy enables him to best handle Colorado’s finances, create jobs and return $1.3 billion in assets in the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund to its rightful owners.
However, his Democratic opponent, Dave Young, a state representative from Greeley, said his experience in the statehouse makes him better suited to handling the challenges facing Colorado.
Wayne Williams, the Republican incumbent, touted the successes he has had since he was first elected secretary of state in 2014.
Colorado has the lowest business fees in the nation, more than 100,000 new businesses and the highest voter turnout in the country and is the safest state in which to cast a ballot, Williams said, in ticking off his accomplishments.
“That’s the record I’m running on,” he said.
Democratic challenger Jena Griswold, an attorney and first-time candidate, pledged to champion transparency, curb dark money problems in the state’s campaigns and to expand automatic voter registration.
The attorney general candidates disagreed on how they view their role if elected, particularly when it came to suing the federal government.
“I have a simple test,” Weiser said. “Is the federal government doing something that’s illegal? And does that action hurt Colorado?”
With that test in mind, Weiser promised to protect the Affordable Care Act and act to stop the separation of immigrant families at country’s borders.
Brauchler questioned whether Colorado’s attorney general would have the jurisdiction to tackle those issues.
“Are we going to have an attorney general or are we going to have an activist?” he said.
The attorney general’s responsibility is protecting the state’s sovereignty, Brauchler said. That sovereignty has been put in danger by Barack Obama’s administration and President Donald Trump’s administration, he said, referencing the possibility U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions could crack down on Colorado’s marijuana industry.
“As attorney general I will push back on that too,” he said. “I care not which party has the White House. … I’m here to protect the state of Colorado.”
Watson and Young were in agreement in opposing Amendment 74, a measure on the November ballot that would require governments to compensate property owners landowners if new laws or regulations reduce the value of their land.
Watson said if the amendment passes it would place a large burden on the state’s taxpayers.
Young went a step further and said the legislation would create chaos, particularly harming every level of the state’s education system.
“Every aspect of the budget would be very dramatically impacted in a very negative way,” he said.
Williams and Griswold also were in unison in acknowledging that voters are worried that foreign governments will meddle in the state’s elections.
“Nobody in Moscow, nobody in Beijing, nobody in the rest of the world changed a single vote in Colorado,” Williams said.
This month, an unsealed federal indictment illustrated that Russian military intelligence targeted the Colorado Springs-based U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in a multiyear hacking and smear campaign, The Gazette previously reported.
“I think the concerns are fair, and I think President Trump stokes those concerns himself,” Griswold said.
That confidence was also damaged when Williams submitted Colorado voter information to Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
However, Williams noted that all the information his office submitted to the now disbanded commission was publicly available under the state’s open record laws.
“No private information was given, only publicly available information,” Williams said.
Watch closing statements here:
Watch the full debate here: