Garnett vows to put people before party in attorney general’s office

State attorney general is one of those elected offices that ought to be non-partisan, but too often isn’t. Rarely has this been more true than with incumbent Attorney General John Suthers. Again and again he has used his office to involve the state of Colorado in lawsuits brought in other states to advance or defend Republican causes.

Democratic challenger Stan Garnett was motivated to run for attorney general, he says, when Suthers announced he was joining a case brought in Florida to have federal health care reforms declared unconstitutional. A dozen other GOP attorneys general (and one Democrat) from conservative states also signed on to challenge the legality of requiring individuals to purchase health insurance.

Calling the lawsuit “inappropriate” and “a waste of the prestige and authority of the office of Colorado attorney general,” Garnett charged that Suthers “had used his power for purely partisan purposes.”

This practice of supporting legal cases advocating conservative GOP causes has been a common practice for Attorney General Suthers. Soon after being appointed by Gov. Bill Owens, Suthers filed an amicus brief in a Virginia case supporting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

Other cases in which Suthers involved the state included gun laws in Washington, D. C., the death penalty in Kansas, environmental issues in North and South Carolina and gay marriage in Nebraska and California.

In 2009, Suthers joined an amicus brief arguing that a judge who took over $3 million from a litigant in his court need not recuse himself from a trial involving the donor. The generous litigant Suthers supported in this case was Massey Coal, the company whose criminal neglect would lead to the death of 29 miners in the devastating explosion at their Upper Big Branch mine just over a year later.

This year, in addition to the Florida case against health care reform, Suthers joined an amicus brief defending the exclusion of gays from a Christian group at a public institution in California. In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed an appellate court decision that the organization could not practice such exclusion and still enjoy university benefits.

Suthers defended his position on health care reform as an issue of states’ rights and protecting the sovereignty of Colorado. But some legal experts say the lawsuit has essentially no chance of success even with the current conservative Supreme Court.

Even if the Florida case does raise a legitimate issue, Garnett says, “we have enough to worry about in Colorado” without joining “obstructionist legislation in Florida.”

As for the other out-of-state issues Suthers has involved his office in, they seem to share in common only the fact that all are conservative Republican issues. It is difficult to discern any purpose beyond Suthers’ political posturing for involving Colorado in these issues.

In his acceptance speech at the Republican state convention, Suthers said, “in many ways, the 2010 election is all about the scope and growth of federal power.” Garnett, he said, “is basing his campaign against me on my efforts to protect federalism by opposing the individual health care mandate.”

Though excessive partisanship and the distraction of out-of-state lawsuits are central to Garnett’s campaign against Suthers, these are not the only issues fueling his campaign. He has been highly critical of lackluster consumer protection enforcement by Suthers, for example, while he promises to make consumer protections a central focus of his administration.

More recently Garnett has criticized Suthers for taking campaign contributions from the payday loan industry while his office was drafting new regulations to protect consumers from predatory lending practices.

Whether legal or not, accepting $10,350 from payday loan company PACs while drafting rules to regulate the industry shows a remarkable lack of sensitivity to the appearance of impropriety on the attorney general’s part.

As Garnett told the Democratic assembly, “We can’t wait any longer to have an attorney general’s office that serves the people of Colorado ... We can’t wait any longer to have an attorney general who is not distracted by partisanship.”

Tired of the overheated partisanship of the recent past, Colorado voters are likely to welcome Garnett’s message of people before parties and hand him a victory in November.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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