Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Attorney General candidates spar at DU law school

The two candidates vying to be the next attorney general of Colorado squared off June 2 in an appropriate place — the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.

Facing an audience peppered with legal scholars, students and lawyers, Republican incumbent John Suthers and Democratic challenger Stan Garnett engaged in the first debate in what’s expected to be a contentious campaign. The debate was sponsored by public affairs television host Aaron Harber and and co-hosted by DU and the University of Colorado School of Law. More than 200 spectators packed the forum of the Ricketson Law Building for the 90-minute debate.

CU law dean David Getches opened the event by explaining the similarities shared by Suthers and Garnett, from being lifelong Coloradans to having the same number of children.

Even during the debate, the two appeared to find common ground on some issues. Both said Arizona has been wrong to adopt its controversial new immigration laws and said immigration is, under the Constitution, the jurisdiction of the federal government. And they agreed that Colorado judges do a good job.

But that’s where the common ground ended.

Much of the debate centered on experience and goals. Suthers said he is running for the office of attorney general because he wants to be the attorney general, not because he is seeking a stepping stone to higher office. He chided Garnett, who was elected district attorney for Boulder County in 2008 and already seeking to leave for the statewide office.

“Stan has been managing a public law office for 18 months,” Suthers said. “I have been managing very large public law offices for 18 years.”

Garnett, who spent most of his career in private law firms, shot back, “John is a career politician.”

Garnett said he felt compelled to run for the office because of the urgent need to maximize the effectiveness of such an important public service.

The two diverged most strongly on the issue of a pending lawsuit that Suthers joined — along with other Republican attorneys general — that challenges the federal government’s new health care reform law. Suthers argues the government doesn’t have the Constitutional right to force residents to buy health care or face a penalty, which is part of the law.

Suthers said there may be a right way to overhaul health insurance, but when the government starts ordering residents to buy a product or face federal punishment, it sets a dangerous precedent.

Garnett said the Republican-led attempt to block the legislation reflected partisanship and “fear mongering.”

The debate, broken into three segments, will air at a later date on statewide television. Neither candidate faces a primary challenger; they will face off in the Nov. 2 general election.

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