By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4)– Colorado’s Attorney General race usually doesn’t garner a lot of attention. This year will be different as state AGs wield increasingly more power.
Once above the political fray, they have become major political players on the national stage. Democratic AGs have sued the Trump administration 35 times in just the first year of his administration. Republican AGs sued the Obama administration 46 times. They have slowed – even stopped – major policy decisions.
The two men vying for Colorado’s open seat come from very different perspectives. Republican George Brauchler is a District Attorney. Democrat Phil Weiser is a law school professor. But they agree, the role of the state AG has changed dramatically.
“What I think historically had been perceived as sort of this boring regulatory enforcer has really become weaponized in the past 10-15 years to in essence, turn these spots into almost third U.S. Senators,” says Brauchler.
Weiser agrees that the job is more important than ever, “And the reason state AGs are more important right now is because Congress is not doing its job. It’s disfunctional.”
That has created a vacuum for activist AGs, who are increasingly shaping national policy by banding together in partisan coalitions and filing lawsuits to block or force action on everything from health care to the environment to immigration.
“They have turned these AGs offices – guardians of the states and the Constitution – into little more than political, ideological ambulance chasers,” says Brauchler.
He insists Republican AGs have sued to constrain federal overreach while Democratic AGs have sued to expand federal oversight.
But Weiser says it’s about consumer protection. “And if you want dismantle all those protections, you’re saying, ‘Let people fend for themselves or let states fend for themselves’ and that’s not what United States of America is about. It’s a compact of states working together to provide key critical protections.”
But critics note the lawsuits often pit one bloc of states against another — red versus blue — potentially undercutting the credibility of the office.
Weiser says he views the role of the state as being a lawyer for the people of Colorado, “Whether it’s issues like health care, marijuana or methane rule, I’m acting only when necessary to protect Colorado consumers.”
Brauchler says he believes the AGs role is to defend state law and the constitution, “I’m going be an AG who stands up for Colorado regardless of who’s in the White House.”
State AGs are also coordinating – in bi-partisan fashion – to sue corporations and use their collective power to negotiate settlements, essentially forcing new regulation through litigation. Most recently, they filed suit against the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid epidemic.
As a sign of their growing influence, their national organizations have raised millions of dollars for this year’s elections.