It’s a squeaker! Democratic Attorney General’s race shows Weiser slightly ahead of Salazar

More than 24 hours after polls closed and as the last ballots are being counted, University of Colorado law professor Phil Weiser maintains a lead of about 5,198 votes over state Rep. Joe Salazar in the hard-fought race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.

As of 7:36 p.m. Wednesday night, with 99 percent of counties reporting, Weiser has snagged 50.44 percent of the vote compared to Salazar’s 49.56 percent.

While the race officially is still too close to call, Weiser wrapped up his party Tuesday night with a thank-you speech and high expectations of victory.

“I’ve got an amazing team and depth of support behind me and that’s why I’m going to win this race,” he said.

Meanwhile as Weiser shut his party down, Salazar’s event was in full swing, with music blaring and supporters still calling out results.

“I’m not saying anything or doing anything tomorrow,” Salazar said to cheers from the crowd, “because … we have a lot of black and brown and working family votes that are still being counted.”

Whomever wins the Democratic nomination once the votes are all tallied will face Republican George Brauchler, the district attorney in the 18th Judicial District, in November’s general election. Brauchler ran for his party’s nomination for governor last year until he stepped out of that race when Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced her candidacy. But Coffman’s campaign collapsed in April when she failed to win enough votes at the Republican state assembly to qualify for Tuesday’s GOP primary ballot.

Meanwhile, the Democratic primary race shaped up as face-off between that party’s establishment wing, which has supported Weiser, and its progressive wing, which embraces Salazar. Republicans view Weiser as a tougher candidate to beat statewide in November.

Weiser, a Denver resident, is currently a law professor the University of Colorado, specializing in internet-, antitrust-, and constitutional law, among other areas. He is often characterized as an establishment candidate with endorsements from big names like Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former oil and gas geologist who has been a booster of the industry and former U.S. Sen. and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who now works in a private law practice representing oil and gas giant Anadarko. 

Weiser’s resume includes working with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Byron R. White as a law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court, and in the Obama administration as a senior advisor to the National Economic Council director and as the deputy assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division.  

Salazar calls himself a “street fighter” and characterizes himself as an advocate for marginalized communities. He earned his law degree from the University of Denver and has almost 15 years of experience practicing employment-, civil rights-, constitutional-  and federal Indian law. He has served as a state House representative since 2013.

With endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Progressive Democrats of America and Hardcore Democrats, Salazar long has been one of the state’s most outspoken progressive lawmakers. He often touts his work trying to make public health and safety the highest priority for state oil and gas regulators, who currently act more as boosters of the industry. He also has been a fierce proponent of  trying to reform the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) to ease fiscal constraints on state revenues.

As Salazar tells it, a win for Weiser would mean the Democratic Party would forgo the chance to nominate an experienced attorney: “Colorado loses the only person of color running on a statewide ticket. Colorado loses a community activist and a civil rights attorney running on the ticket.”

For Weiser supporters, a win for Salazar would mean losing a balanced voice in the Colorado government and someone who is willing to compromise.

According to independent political analyst, Eric Sondermann, Weiser would have a stronger chance of beating Republican Nominee George Brauchler in November.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that George Brauchler and Republicans (have been) hoping against hope that Joe Salazar won this primary,” he said. “They think he’s infinitely more beatable.

“If Salazar wins, you have to dismiss the notion that Colorado is an up-for-grabs purple state.”

The attorney general office is in charge of representing Colorado in both state and federal cases, and since 2016, attorneys general have taken stands against the federal government on issues like net neutrality, the Muslim ban, and a new citizenship question that the Trump administration wants included on the 2020 Census.

In Colorado, the new AG likely will challenge federal law enforcement on marijuana policy and take over litigation on controversial cases such one that will determine whether or not public health and environmental issues will take precedence in oil and gas regulations.

Colorado is one of 12 states where the governor and the attorney general come from different parties.

“If you have a Democratic attorney general with a Democratic governor, obviously it’s much smoother sledding,” Sondermann said. With a Republican attorney and a Democratic governor, however, the two are often at odds.  “So you need to look at the…attorney general and the governor and not just the attorney general alone.”

Secretary of State

Jena Griswold, current director of her law firm, Griswold Strategies LLC, and former director of Gov. Hickenlooper’s D.C. office, was the only Democratic candidate in the primary and will be that party’s nominee for Secretary of State.

From Estes Park, she emphasizes growing up in a working-class family and starting to work at age 12. If elected as secretary of state, Griswold hopes to enhance cyber security during elections, make dark money’s role in elections more transparent, and ensure Coloradans’ right to vote.  She plans to stand up to President Trump on this last point, joining critics of his Commission on Election Integrity by arguing that it represents an effort to weaken voting rights.

Wayne Williams, the current secretary of state and only Republican candidate, leans heavily on his past accomplishments. The National Association of Secretaries of State presented him with the Medallion Award for successfully running a primary election during the 2012 wildfire season, even when his office had to be evacuated.  He favors requiring photo identification to vote and advocated for expanding acceptable forms of photo ID to help veterans and Native Americans vote. He also removed illegal registrants from voting rolls “after due process.”

Colorado’s Secretary of State’s office supervises elections, maintains the statewide voter registration file, and runs the TRACER database, where campaign finance records are open to the public. It also manages state business and licensing.

State Treasurer

As of this writing at midnight, Democrat state Rep. Dave Young leads Democrat Bernie Douthit 69 percent to 31 percent, with 83 percent of counties reporting.

Among Republicans, businessman Brian Watson is leading with 38.19 percent of the vote, with state Rep. Justin Everett at 36.72 percent and state Rep. Polly Lawrence at 25.09 percent.

On the Democratic side of that contest, Young raised $100,000 through June 13, while Bernie Douthit raised $53,000 and loaned his campaign $30,000.

Among Republicans, Brian Watson put $583,000 into his coffers,Lawrence kicked in $162,000, and state Rep. Justin Everett spent nearly $139,000 of his own money.

Colorado’s Treasurer’s Office manages the state’s investments and public assets. The treasurer also serves as a trustee on the 15-person board for Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association, which manages the retirement funds for about 566,000 current, former and retired public employees. PERA has been the center of controversy after teetering on insolvency.

Photo by Shannon Mullane