The Democratic primary for attorney general of Colorado pitted state Representative Joe Salazar against Phil Weiser, a law professor at the University of Colorado. Both articulated a series of reform-oriented positions: support for the state’s marijuana legalization and bail reform, opposition to the death penalty, and a commitment to offering legal support to sanctuary cities. While he is opposed to capital punishment, Weiser (unlike Salazar) said that he would defend the state’s existing death penalty laws—which provide for it—in court. In addition, Salazar ran on pursuing more aggressively reform actions, such as suing localities that cooperate with ICE and suing cities for violating the rights of homeless people.
The better-funded Weiser secured the nomination in the June 26 primary, beating Salazar by less than one percentage point. In a general election that is likely to be competitive, Weiser now faces Republican George Brauchler, the district attorney of Colorado’s Arapahoe, Douglass, Elbert, and Lincoln counties.
In a statement in March, the ACLU of Colorado highlighted Brauchler’s “devotion” to capital punishment. “Brauchler and his office reside at the extreme fringe of the issue in Colorado,” it said, noting that “Colorado’s death row is occupied exclusively by black men from Brauchler’s district.” The ACLU’s statement was occasioned by the jailing for contempt of Greta Lindecrantz, a woman who was refusing to testify in a death penalty case on religious grounds.
In another confrontation, Brauchler has mounted a legal battle with the Colorado Independent, a publication that sought to unseal records about prosecutorial misconduct in the case of a person on death row. Brauchler is also blocking efforts to revisit juvenile sentences in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles. In April, he filed a petition that challenged the constitutionality of a new state law that provided for reconsideration of such sentences, which has since led to legal confrontations with the attorneys of Curtis Brooks, one of the individuals looking for such reconsideration in Brauchler’s district.
Brauchler provides a good illustration of the impact of uncontested district attorney elections. In 2012, he won his first general election by four percentage points, helped by his party’s performance in the presidential election; by my calculation, Mitt Romney won this judicial district by six percentage points. Four years later, Democrats improved in this judicial district, with Hillary Clinton narrowly edging out Donald Trump—but this time Brauchler faced no opponent.
update (Nov. 11): Phil Weiser defeated George Brauchler on Nov. 6.