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Our View: Elect Weiser to finish AG work

Crime – specifically car thefts – continually comes up in Colorado’s attorney general race, particularly from the Republican side. Democratic incumbent state Attorney General Phil Weiser and Republican challenger John Kellner, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, field the question, how would you reduce crime?

But this isn’t the best question. Yes, an attorney general can work to establish stiffer penalties. But Colorado’s attorney general is the state’s lawyer. It does not supervise law enforcement. Its public safety role is limited. The relationship with law enforcement is closer to a partnership.

Reducing crime means more police officers on the street, first and foremost. Train and fund them well. Elect district attorneys with the skill and discretion to prove cases beyond a reasonable doubt. Judges should hand out sentences to deter defendants properly convicted.

As it is, open positions for cops remain all over Colorado. Still, the question keeps coming.

So consider, do you want an attorney general with refined appellate lawyering skills – Weiser – or one campaigning as a crime fighter – Kellner? Because the job is all about winning appellate arguments – the major criminal justice role here – and defending state law. This is the highest priority.

Urgent court decisions – whether upheld or reversed – will have more to do with other matters, such as the Reproductive Health Equity Act, civil rights, consumer rights and fraud, public access to health care, water in the West, pollution and voting rights. (Weiser argued nicely an election integrity case in our nation’s highest court.) An attorney general has agency over these kinds of lawsuits. An attorney general defends the rights of all Colorado citizens.

We know, for example, Weiser would defend the Reproductive Health Equity Act. But would Kellner? He’s been silent on abortion access, although he’s apparently personally pro-life. We don’t know how he’d argue and follow Colorado law. If local ordinances curb abortion access, the AG must defend state law. Imminent lawsuits are likely. Our state abortion law will be tested.

This is one reason we are endorsing Weiser. He takes a broad view to the job, more than just crime. And isn’t basing his campaign on fear.

Weiser has advanced gun safety measures, addressed the school-to-prison pipeline and worked to provide treatment for Coloradans who struggle with mental health challenges or substance use. He’s passionate about more “emotional intelligence” training for police officers. By the time cases land in court, whatever went down with police is too late to change.

He’s also knee-deep studying litigation on the Colorado River compact.

Kellner is also sharp and hardworking. We expect his star to rise, especially among GOP ranks. He’s all about service. A Marine Corps vet, he’s passionate about supporting law enforcement.

Kellner’s district includes most of Aurora, and all of Douglas, Elbert, Lincoln and Arapahoe counties. Crime is terrible in Aurora but we certainly don’t blame Kellner.

No doubt, Colorado’s overall crime rate has spiked because of incidents on the Front Range – Denver, Colorado Springs and Aurora – more than other communities. In the nation, Colorado had the highest car theft rate – mostly in Denver – in 2021, with 661.21 thefts per 100,000 people. Crazy!

Crime and public safety are prominent in this election. But let’s get straight on what a state attorney general can – and can’t – do and keep politics out of it. Let’s keep Weiser to finish the work started.