On Tuesday morning, Republican Attorney General John Suthers, who discusses his long, hot summer debating the same-sex marriage issue in this week's print edition, announced his candidacy for mayor of Colorado Springs. Minutes before embarking on a water tour of Colorado, Suthers took a few minutes to speak with Westword about the upcoming race, the shift from law to city politics and his plans if he is elected.
Westword: How does your experience and commitment to the law translate into a political career?
John Suthers: That's a very good question that I've actually thought about quite a bit. On one side, it's an easy transition, in the sense that I will be well prepared, as a strict politician, if you will, as a mayor, to say, "Hey, I disagree with this issue, but the voters have spoken. The council has spoken in overriding my veto. That's the law, and I'll move forward."
For example, as you know, I oppose marijuana legalization. I would likely oppose Colorado Springs setting up retail recreational marijuana. But if the voters say otherwise -- I mean, this has been my life story -- I'll accept that quite quickly and begin implementing the law. So that's a smooth transition.
The last smooth transition is that there are certain parts of politicking that are much rawer than just being a government lawyer. When people come in and ask me to do something I'm disinclined to do, I just wave the law book at them. That's more difficult to do as a U.S. senator or congressman or even a mayor.
Now, to the extent that they're asking you to do something illegal, that's pretty easy to say, "Based on my legal experience, you're asking me to do something illegal. I'm not going to do that." But that's not typically the case. They're going to be asking you to advocate for this bill or not and all that kind of stuff. You're not going to be able to hide behind the law book here. You've got to lay it out: This is where I am politically. This is what I think about this issue.
As you well know, you have a hard time getting me to say how I feel about particular issues because it's largely irrelevant. But when you're a politician and you're either going to sign a bill or an ordinance passed by the council or you're going to veto it, you've got to say where you stand. It's not just a matter of the law. That's something different. But, gosh, I've been observing that process an awful long time and I think I can tell who does it well and who doesn't do it well, so I really don't think I'll have too much of a problem. But it's a very legitimate question.
Talk about what you're going to bring to Colorado Springs.
A managerial style that it's much in need of. I don't know how much you know about Colorado Springs, but the last couple of years have been a complete log jam because the council and the mayor are constantly bickering over one assertion of council power versus mayoral power and all that kind of stuff. Frankly, there is not much constructive communication going on.
I think I bring a management style that will facilitate and promote constructive communication. I'm not going to change people's personality or their philosophy, but I can certainly do a better job of getting people to sit down and communicate with some common denominators and things like that.
I think communication has been a serious problem down there. My management style would be much superior to what's taken place over the last several years. I think I have a pretty good sense of what the major problems are and what people are expecting.
City government, unlike higher levels of government, doesn't run entitlement programs or anything like that. Cities are into central services. They do infrastructure like roads and bridges; they do safety like police and fire; they do parks. That's what people expect.
When I talk to people in Colorado Springs, they're just mystified about all the hostilities going on between the council and the mayor, and all they want is their potholes fixed. It's as simple as that. I don't want to go in and get my steering fixed every week because I run into potholes. The city's not resurfacing roads at the rate that most cities are able to do, and people want to find solutions for that. How to do that and still maintain the pretty low tax base that's historically been the case in El Paso County is tricky, but I think with creative thinking, it can be done. But people do have to communicate, and that's where things have to start.
What do you see as the vision for public safety in Colorado Springs?
I know the Colorado Springs Police Department very well, and I think it's an outstanding police department. I think we have an excellent fire department. I used to represent the Police Protective Association in private practice. I was the District Attorney. I know the Colorado Springs Police Department very well. I think the average cop on the street, frankly, is better educated and a little more sophisticated that the average cop in Colorado. I really feel very strongly about that. It's a good situation, and there it's a matter of making sure we have the resources. Do we have enough cops on the street per thousand citizens? Are we getting the proper police supplier equipment to our police department and things like that?
Frankly, Colorado Springs is in better shape than some other police departments that have an awful lot of abuse of force issues and things like that.
How do you see running impacting the rest of your term as Attorney General?
I hope not much. What I have told everybody is that I'm going to spend the next couple of months organizing a campaign, getting a website, setting up checking and doing some fundraising to get the campaign started up. But I'm not going to do a formal kick-off until right after I leave office in January. And then I'm going to campaign full-time from January until April 7. If I'm successful, I'll be mayor. If I'm not, I'll take a lucrative law job. I don't see any problem running through the finish line as Attorney General. That's very important to me that I do that.
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How are you going to approach the campaign?
I'm going to be my own person. It will be contentious. I can see it shaping up right now. But I've always, in every campaign that I've been in, I've always tried to be the adult in the room, even when everybody else wasn't trying to be. I'll certainly attempt to do that. But I'm not beyond pointing out the documented shortcomings of other people, in terms of management and all that kind of stuff. We'll do that, and I'm sure they'll do that to me also.
I think it will be a very energetic campaign. It's relatively short, which is nice. It's almost like a parliamentary campaign. It's really most seriously from January to April. I'll give it my best shot. I'm passionate about it. The other candidates are passionate about it, and we'll see what happens.
Find me on Twitter: @kyle_a_harris