George Brauchler, an experienced prosecutor and the current head attorney for the 18th Judicial District, is running as the Republican candidate for Colorado attorney general.
Brauchler has spent the majority of his life living and working in Colorado and is still an active member of the military, which he calls "the greatest leadership training organization on the planet Earth." He won the 18th Judicial District seat in 2012 and famously prosecuted the Aurora theater shooting case.
After current Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman entered the Republican gubernatorial primary, Brauchler ran unopposed in the Republican primary and now faces off against Democratic Phil Weiser.
Brauchler recently stopped by the Westword office. Although he spoke about his dual love for the New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies, the interview that follows focuses on the issues most important to voters.
Westword: Why do you want to be attorney general?
George Brauchler: For me, Colorado is the only home I've ever known. I grew up in middle-class Lakewood, Colorado, and I've attended public schools my whole life. Everything important in my life is in this state, and this state, at this time in our history, is at a potential turning point. I am running in part for a very selfish reason, and that is, I'm worried about the state we're about to turn over to my four great kids and how remarkably different it is from the state I inherited from my parents just 46 years ago. The Colorado that I grew up in is one that's always been about balance. We've never been all one thing or another, and I mean that both politically and ideologically.
This election right now poses the very real possibility that we'll wake up on November 7 and we are all one thing. And that one thing isn't just Democrat. It's not just about party control, but a much harder left Democrat than we've probably ever seen in so many different levels of government, and I don't know if that makes us better. I want a Colorado that my kids want to stay in when they reach adulthood. I want Colorado to be a state they can afford to live in. And I'm not convinced right now that either one of those things are true. And so, when I run for attorney general, I do it to protect Colorado from these wide political swings that seem to be hitting other states. ... I want to depoliticize at least one position in state government, and attorney general should be that position.
What do you have that Phil Weiser doesn't have?
A couple things. One, I have a lifetime commitment to Colorado. In my adult life, I've never yearned to live anywhere else. I had the opportunity to run for the United States Senate against Michael Bennet after the Aurora theater trial and I turned it down, in large part, because I don't want to live in Washington, D.C. I want to live and die in Colorado, if that's in the cards for me.
The biggest difference has to be in terms of experience. I have a great deal of respect for the professor and the expertise he's carved out in that nexus between net neutrality and the law. Obviously a wicked smart guy. I mean, I couldn't have been picked to be a Supreme Court clerk. They barely even let me in on the tours.
But, having said that, zero percent of this job is about academia. Instead, what this job is about is being the top lawyer for the government of the state of Colorado. And, every single day, even before I left law school, with the exception of the time I was on active duty with the Army, I have been a practicing Colorado lawyer.
I don't think this is a question of, "Well, is the AG ever going to go to trial?" I don't know. Certainly you'd know I had the ability to. But that's not the issue. The issue is, do we have an AG who knows what it takes to be successful at trial? Do we have an AG who knows how to manage people for whom litigation is the defining act of what they do on behalf of the state? We don't select a team captain from someone who has never played the sport.
I have that experience. And, again, not to take anything away from the great stuff that the professor has accomplished, but look, at the end of the day, when he is referred to as a former Obama Justice Department official, one thing that no one in the media ever talks about is, "Yeah, it was in the anti-trust division for nine months. That's it." I have spent almost that much time in a single trial, and that was the Aurora theater massacre.
In terms of being in charge of an office, I don't agree that it's administerial. But I do agree with this: If you're looking for someone who is truly committed to his core to the state of Colorado and not my own partisan views, someone who has the experience to fight for Colorado regardless of who's in the White House, that's me.
Some people want to sue big pharma companies in light of the opioid crisis. You aren't so sure yet.
No, I don't think that's quite accurate, but I appreciate where that came from. I think what happened is, this conversation started when the professor announced, "If I'm elected, I'm going to drag the state of Colorado into the courtroom to take on big pharma because I'm convinced, with the publicly available information, that I know the claim that should be levied against this industry or this company." Well, my response had never been, "No, no. You shouldn't do that." My response had always been, "Hang on. That's an easy comment to make for someone who has never litigated a case, for someone who has never had a client." But from where I sit, the only responsible answer that an attorney can give is to say, "Hang on, that may very well be the right course of action. But you can't know until you're in the office and you look at all the information that's not available to the public." That is not something you do as a matter of political expediency on the campaign trail. That is reckless.
I have a great deal of respect for Attorney General Coffman and the deliberate way in which she and her team have tackled this. She filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. My sense of it is, that is the right course of action and that they have filed the right claims. I do believe the next attorney general should look at it and say, "Okay, I want to make sure I understand what we're doing." To simply say in the campaign, "I'm going to run around and I'm going to sue everybody who has ever manufactured an opioid marketed" or "I'm going to make this my signature issue as AG" from outside the office — buddy, that's activism. That's not being an attorney general.
Tell me why you support the death penalty.
I support the death penalty because Colorado has it on the books. I think too often in political contests, too much of the debate is on what do you personally think. But the issue really should be, as attorney general, are you going to vigorously defend the laws of the state of Colorado and our provisions of our constitution whether you agree with them or not? And the answer for me is yes.
Take the death penalty off the table. Imagine someone being elected to district attorney who said, "I don't believe in bias-motivated crimes. I think that assault is assault, and it doesn't matter why you do it." The public would rightfully be outraged and say, "Holy Christmas, man. That's not your call. The legislature put that on the books, buddy." Your choice is to decide whether or not it fits a specific case, not whether I'm not going to ever use it again.
Same thing with the death penalty. The death penalty cannot be that one law where we go, "Well, it's kind of expensive. Well, it's sort of fallen out of disfavor with some of the politicos and the elite." That can't be what we do for any district attorney.
But if you ask me on a personal level outside of my faith, I'd say this: Being a prosecutor is being in the justice business. And right now, the state of Colorado has said, if one guy, a gang member, walks up to another gang member on a street corner in Denver and shoots him in the face on that corner for drugs or whatever, that dude is going to prison for the rest of his life. And that's the way it should be.
What do we do if someone murders two people, five people, ten people? If you take the death penalty away from all of them, really the message that you've sent to society is once you've killed one person, everything you do after that is a freebie because there can be no greater outcome than you get sent to prison for the rest of your life.
So as a matter of justice and a matter of public policy, I think it's the right way to go. But, independent of that, I go with the will of the people of the state of Colorado. If Colorado's voters, not the legislature, decide we don't want the death penalty anymore, I will be happy as a clam with that. I will move forward and we will continue to get good results for victims with one less tool in the toolbox.
You've taken an interest in illegal marijuana, but some might argue there are bigger fish to fry. Meth is making a comeback. Heroin is killing people. Why focus on illegal marijuana right now?
One, I don't think they're mutually exclusive. The crime you ignore is the one that multiplies and gets out of control. Colorado voters did not legalize marijuana. They regulated recreational marijuana, and there's a huge distinction. When voters were asked to consider Amendment 64, they were not told, "Hey, it's Katy, bar the door. Anything anybody wants to do at anytime ever," because there were some obvious public safety and health concerns associated with this. All of those black-market marijuana grows that are inviting criminal elements into the state or are turning people here engaged in crime, those things are really attacks on the will of the people of the state of Colorado. When we enforce the laws against everybody outside of the regulatory market, we are actually enforcing the will of the people of the state of Colorado. I'll tell you, this drug trafficking does not happen in a vacuum. They use these routes for far more than marijuana. They also use them for methamphetamine.
It's not a matter of, can we just stop prosecuting illegal marijuana and focus on these other things. They're combined in a lot of ways.
Let's talk about enforcing federal immigration mandates. You don't want to turn Colorado into a sanctuary state, but you also want to balance against federal government overreach. How can you ensure that balance?
If you take yourself out of the position of being an activist, it's pretty easy. There is no state rule on immigration. The Supreme Court says that. It's clear. I do not, and I oppose converting our local law enforcement officers into an arm of ICE or any other federal agency. I do not, and I oppose sheriffs holding on to people beyond the limits of the Fourth Amendment. The law right now says these administrative warrants that the police hold for ICE don't withstand legal scrutiny, so I'm opposed to that, too. I do have an issue with the idea of ignoring law. Federal immigration law clearly needs to be fixed. But they're saying, "We'll ignore it." That flies in the face of the rule of law.
Do you think prisons are overcrowded in Colorado?
We have more and more people in prisons. I don't like that. But to jump from that and say we have a problem with the system flies in the face of the reality that violent crime is on the rise in the state of Colorado.
If one person says, "Well, we're just charging too many people with crimes," that is ignorant, that is reckless. The real question should be: My God, why are we seeing this uptick?
I would love to see sentencing reform. I have been a huge proponent of criminal justice reform. But it does not make us safer to say, "We have too many people in jail, let's just keep them from going there."
You were previously in support of a red-flag bill. Do you think that upholds due-process rights of gun owners?
I did support that red-flag legislation but said at the time, "I am incredibly skeptical about giving government this kind of power. But I don't want that skepticism to keep us from trying to do something and only rely on hope between now and the next legislative session."
There were significant changes that I wanted to see with the bill, largely on the lines of protecting due process and creating a shelf life for the bill of one year. I was concerned and wanted to see after twelve months if it was abused.
Since then, the sheriff in Broward County ended up using the red flag, I think, more than any other jurisdiction in the country. That is a huge red flag.
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My attitude is, if we're going to try to tackle the nexus between dangerous mental illness and guns — and I think we're obligated to, not just morally, but as a matter of government — then I think we need to start with the mental health piece. We need to fix the 72-hour mental health hold law because the standard is fake, nobody could ever be grabbed up off the street who's going through a dangerous mental illness episode and be successfully held and/or treated. We need to spend money on mental health resources that simply don't exist right now.
If we can fix those two things, then I don't think we need to have the same conversation about guns. But if all we're gonna do is simply cross our arms and just hope that nothing else happens again, we're setting ourselves and some future victim for failure, because the status quo does not work.
I showed up and took significant blows for moving forward on legislation like that [red flag bill]. Where's the other guy who says, "I stand for common sense gun laws," but then can't be brought out of academia to testify? That should be a question that I hope every political candidate answers: When have you stood up against your party because you believed in something else? I've done it every single year I've been in the DA's office.
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.