Election 2018News

Attorney general, congressional candidates debate at Club 20

Author: Marianne Goodland - September 8, 2018 - Updated: September 27, 2018

Democratic candidate for 3rd Congressional District Diane Mitsch Bush, left, and Republican Congressman Scott Tipton, right, speak during the Club 20 debates at Two Rivers Convention Center on Sept. 8 in Grand Junction. (Chancey Bush/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel via AP)

GRAND JUNCTION — Club 20’s Saturday night debate lineup featured the first face-to-face confrontation between the major party candidates for the state’s 3rd Congressional District and a lively debate — the second but most intense to date — between the major party candidates for attorney general.

The Club 20 debates mark the unofficial start to the 2018 general election campaign season. The 17 debates throughout Saturday tested candidates for Western Slope state House and Senate offices, plus the major party candidates for secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general.

congressional debate
Republican Attorney General candidate George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, addresses the audience at Saturday night’s Club 20 debate. (Photo by Marianne Goodland/Colorado Politics)

The attorney general’s race debate between Republican George Brauchler and Democrat Phil Weiser featured lively discussions over water, the state Constitution. They also squared off on the role of the attorney general in interacting with the governor and what the candidates would do if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, should Judge Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The “Western Slope for far too long has had too much water taken from it for the Front Range,” Brauchler said, on a question dealing with water and water needs. He pledged to continue to defend the state’s nine water compacts, saying “I will not renegotiate our compacts because we can’t do better. But when it comes to Western Slope water, the key is twofold: tell Southern California they can’t act like they don’t have to go through any changes” and continue to draw down water from Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The second is that the state needs more conservation and storage, although those are water policy issues, something he had previously said is the job of the governor and General Assembly.

In January, Weiser pointed out, the attorney general’s office will start working on guidelines around the Colorado River compacts (those guidelines are expected to arise out of drought contingency plans coming from the Upper Colorado River Commission). “That will take collaborative, innovative leadership,” adding that he wants Colorado to “be a leader internationally on water management and we can do that.”

The candidates also responded to questions about their role as attorney general should voters approve measures that could be unconstitutional. That’s at the heart of what an attorney general does, according to Brauchler. An attorney general is a defender of the law and should not base decisions on ideological whims. He pointed to Amendment 64, the recreational marijuana initiative, as something he disagreed with but that he would defend the will of the people.

“If you’re attorney general, you’re the lawyer for the people of Colorado,” Weiser said. He pledged to give the governor his best legal advice, no matter who gets elected.

AG’s cross-examination

The candidates offered very different ideas about how to ensure Western Colorado is well-represented in the Attorney General’s Office. Brauchler’s plan: regional offices. Weiser, calling that a 20th-century idea, said he would hire local attorneys who would telecommute.

congressional debate
Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser, former dean of the University of Colorado law school, speaks at Saturday night’s Club 20 debate. (Photo by Marianne Goodland/Colorado Politics)

During the debate’s “cross-examination,” when the candidates sparred with each other, Weiser asked Brauchler if he backed the ballot measure that would cap payday loan interest and fees at 36 percent. Brauchler said that sounded like a policy question and he would have to study it further.

In 2010, the Attorney General’s Office played a major role in setting rules around payday loans, including fees, through the office’s administrator for the Uniform Consumer Credit Code.

One of the most intense moments of the debate concerned Roe v. Wade, Weiser accused Brauchler of saying he would overturn the nation’s abortion law, but Brauchler denied it, saying he is pro-life but that the attorney general does not have a role in that argument. Brauchler got booed by some in the audience when he said he would have to “think about it” on whether to file an amicus brief to defend Colorado’s rights if the Supreme Court decided to overturn the law.

Brauchler went after Weiser over his lack of courtroom experience and over some of his views on the actions of current Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. Weiser has said he has argued cases at the Court of Appeals but not before a Colorado court. He also said Coffman made a “bad decision” regarding the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission when she sided with the COGCC and oil and gas companies over a rule proposed by teenagers that would have required the COGCC to consider health and safety implications and other environmental issues when issuing new oil and gas drilling permits. The case is awaiting a hearing from the state Supreme Court.

The evening continued with a question-and-answer with Republican candidate Peter Yu, who is running for the 2nd Congressional District against Democratic candidate Joe Neguse. The Boulder Democrat could not attend the debate because his wife has just given birth to their first child, according to Club 20 officials.

CD 3: Mitsch-Bush vs. Tipton

The liveliest debate of the night belonged to Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez and his Democratic challenger, former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush of Steamboat Springs. The issues: water, the proposed Jordan Cove pipeline to Oregon, immigration visas for ag and the resort industries and why Tipton has said he supports permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund but won’t sign on as a sponsor of the major legislation intended to do that.

Tipton launched his first salvo at the beginning, claiming Mitsch Bush backs single-payer health care that is supported by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and that Mitsch Busch would vote for U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House if elected. “How much will you raise taxes for the big government takeover of healthcare? he asked Mitsch Bush.

Mitsch Bush didn’t take the bait, instead preferring to talk about working in a bipartisan fashion as is the custom at Club 20. “Listening to each other,” as is done at Club 20, ‘makes good policy,” she said.

On health care, the candidates were questioned about what they would put into effective health care legislation. Tipton advocated for a plan that would increase affordability and access, such as plans that cross state lines. He also said he backs a House provision that would keep people with pre-existing conditions from being denied insurance. Mitsch Bush retorted that Tipton’s idea would allow people with pre-existing conditions to get health insurance but that it would be unaffordable since the health insurance plans could charge as much as they want. “That’s the fine print,” she said.

On a question regarding the fossil fuel industry, Mitsch Bush pointed out her district includes coal, oil and natural gas and raised concerns about the market for those products overseas.

That turned into some of the strongest arguments of the evening between the two candidates because that applies to the Jordan Cove project. That project would move Colorado liquified natural gas through a pipeline to a terminal in Oregon and on to overseas markets. Tipton said the contracts are ready and so are the jobs. But Mitsch Bush said the contracts are only short term and that Russia is already making deals with Japan and China to provide their natural gas, and that there would be no market for Colorado’s natural gas. “You’re either for it or against it,” Tipton told Mitsch Bush, who replied that she still has questions about the volatility of the markets and has not taken a position.

One question dealt with the lack of immigration visas for workers who would plant and harvest crops or tend livestock. Mitsch Bush pointed out the Trump administration has cut the number of available visas in the H2A program, but Tipton said he is working on legislation to address the issue.

During the heated “cross-exam” portion, Tipton asked Mitsch Bush if she would vote for Pelosi for Speaker (not necessarily, said Mitsch Bush), and if she would vote to eliminate the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (reform it, not end it, she replied).

Tipton drew groans from some in the audience when he said he hadn’t signed onto the House bill permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water conservation Fund because “the forms hadn’t been sent over.”  She also pressed Tipton on why he had voted against allowing Veterans Administration doctors to prescribe cannabis for PTSD. Tipton said that’s because it’s still classified as a Schedule 1 drug (meaning illegal) but eventually said there were circumstances under which cannabis might work.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.