Colorado attorney general candidates talk sanctuary cities, fracking bans

Samantha Ye

a group of people sit in front of a crowd
Candidates sat in front of a crowd at Avogadro’s Number during the Northern Colorado Attorney General Candidate Forum on March 18. (Sarah Ehrlich | Collegian)

Four state attorney general candidates participated in Sunday’s Attorney General Candidate Forum, answering questions about issues including local fracking laws and sanctuary cities.

The attorney general of the state is the head of the Department of Law, who represents and defends the legal interests of its constituents, according to the Colorado attorney general office website. Sometimes referred to as the “People’s Lawyer,” they also serve as counselors to their legislatures and state agencies.

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Incumbent Cynthia Coffman (Republican), will not be running for re-election this year, instead running for the governor position. That leaves the seat open for any of the currently listed five candidates, four Democrats and one Republican. The Republican candidate, George Brauchler, could not make the forum. 

The forum participants were:

    • Brad Levin (Democrat): Denver attorney

    • Amy Padden (Democrat): former Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney

    • Joe Salazar (Democrat): Colorado state representative

    • Phil Weiser (Democrat): Dean Emeritus of University of Colorado Law School

Sanctuary Cities

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions brought a lawsuit against California earlier this month based on their state laws which limit cooperation with federal immigration activities in so-called “sanctuary cities.”

According to the Department of Justice, the city and county of Denver is one such jurisdiction.

Forum candidates were asked what their stance was on the lawsuit and on cities or states who do not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“For someone who might claim to care about state sovereignty, Jeff Sessions on marijuana and on immigration, is showing a lack of commitment to principle, a lack of commitment to our 10th amendment that provides state with discretion on how to manage their resources,” Weiser said.

Weiser said states might not want their law enforcement to become “deportation police,” because it would protect public health safety, which is a sensible policy. He said he will defend the decisions of Denver and other cities who exercise state sovereignty.

“We need to make sure … that people who are contributing so mightily to the economy and to the welfare of our state, that their rights have to be respected,” Levin said.

Levin cited his discussion with a DACA recipient going to law school, who was fearful of her future, as an unacceptable situation. 

Padden, who said she quit her job as Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney after Sessions was appointed, said his California lawsuit only affirmed she had made the right decision.

“We need to fight back against it, and I know better than anyone how to fight the federal government because I was tasked with defending the federal government for over a decade,” Padden said. “I won’t hesitate for a moment to sue Jeff Session or Donald Trump if what they’re doing is harming the citizens and the people who live in our state.”

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Salazar said it was problematic to him when other attorney general candidates say they will help immigrant families when they did not do much before.

Salazar pointed to his own record as a civil rights attorney and criminal investigator for the State of Colorado and his work since 2006 to fight SB-90, a bill which required police to report arrestees they suspected to be undocumented to ICE. Once in office, Salazar sponsored the bill which repealed SB-90.

“This is where action is more than just words,” Salazar said.

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Fracking Bans and Enforcement of State Laws

In winter of 2017, Coffman filed a lawsuit against Boulder County for their repeated extensions of a 2012 moratorium on applications for oil or gas development in the county.

Previously, the Colorado Supreme Court declared similar fracking bans from City of Fort Collins’ and Longmont invalid because they violated the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act. At the time of the suit, Boulder County was the only county with such bans still in place, according to the press release from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

Forum candidates were asked if they would also bring lawsuits out in that situation and how they would otherwise handle conflicts between state and local laws.

“The way I look at things here, when it comes to oil and gas operations, is that it has to be regulated at a local level,” Salazar said.

Salazar said, as attorney general, he would go after oil and gas companies that “pollute and harm” the public and environment, work with localities to regulate oil and gas activity so they would still comply with the law and promote better oil and gas policy with legislators.

“I’m with (the counties), working to protect the people from unsafe oil and gas development,” Weiser said.

Weiser called Coffman’s suit an ideologically driven political game which the people do not need. He said Coffman’s lawsuit destroyed the relationship between the state attorney general’s office and all the county commissions across the state, and he would not do the same.

Levin said, as attorney general, he would convene experts from both sides of the issue and figure out a solution to allow oil and gas to go forward, while also making sure locals will not have to worry about drilling accidents or pollution.

“Local control is critical,” Levin said. “But at the same time, what we don’t want is all these localities to be enacting their own laws and getting sued by the oil and gas industry.”

Padden said she did not believe suing Boulder County was an appropriate use of prosecutor discretion or taxpayer money. For how she would handle such cases, Padden said she would do as she has always done as a prosecutor.

“In those decisions, you need to look at all the facts, look at the evidence, look at what you think you can bring to the table, what you can prove and look at what’s in the interests of the people, because I’ve been representing people of our state for the past 13 years,” Padden said.

Collegian reporter Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.