Colorado Attorney General: AG Phil Weiser, John Kellner

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican John Kellner (left) is challenging Democratic incumbent Phil Weiser to be Colorado’s Attorney General in the state’s 2022 elections.

The state attorney general is among the most complicated jobs in government.

The job has sweeping, and, sometimes contradicting, responsibilities. That includes defending state employees in civil court while also controlling the statewide grand jury and prosecuting consumer protection cases and fraud. The attorney general is head of the Peace Officer Standards and Training board, which certifies police officers and crafts resources for training peace officers across the state. And the attorney general defends Colorado’s position in the Colorado River Compact, a century-old, multi-state agreement on how to split up and develop water use from the Colorado River. Sometimes, the attorney general is appointed by the governor to investigate local governments for wrongdoing. The attorney general also has the power to open up investigations into local police departments that may have problematic patterns and practices that impinge on citizens’ civil rights.

Lastly, the attorney general has a bully pulpit. From the state’s highest law enforcement and legal perch, the AG can advocate for, or speak out against, proposals and bills in the legislature pertaining to criminal justice, drug reform, access to firearms or sentencing reform. 

Phil Weiser - Democrat - Incumbent

Democrat Phil Weiser has the job now. 

Weiser’s mother was born in a concentration camp and was freed by the U.S. Army when she was seven days old. After law school, he clerked for Ruth Bader Ginsberg and worked for the U.S. Department of Justice during the Obama administration. He was the dean of the University of Colorado law school before being elected in 2018. He and his wife live in Denver and have two kids.

In four years, Weiser has focused on consumer protection. That includes lawsuits against Wells Fargo, DirecTV, CenturyLink, and Navient that has brought more than $200 million in settlements back to Coloradans.

Weiser also joined a handful of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and distributors for their role in the opioid epidemic. Colorado will receive more than $500 million in settlement dollars — an amount mutually agreed upon in advance of the agreements made. Weiser has added empathy and emotional intelligence training to the state’s law enforcement curriculum under the Peace Officers Standards and Training board. He’s been outspoken in preserving Colorado’s rights in the Colorado River Compact and he has joined a handful of high-profile national lawsuits to protect Colorado’s air quality and water quality — particularly during the Trump administration.

Since the Roe vs. Wade decision was overturned, Weiser has made abortion rights a prominent piece of his re-election, saying he will defend Colorado’s newly passed abortion law even when counties may try and ban it

“If there's a movement to overturn this law, I'm committed to fighting against that,” Weiser said, in a recent debate in Aurora. “I was trained by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the concept of equal protection of the laws and reproductive healthcare whose decision should be made by women is something that is deeply in my commitment.” 

On the state’s raging fentanyl epidemic — the number of overdose and poisoning fatalities is rising in Colorado faster than any other state, except Alaska — Weiser supported the Fentanyl Accountability Act. This bill allows prosecutors to charge a felony for possessing more than one gram of fentanyl and gives easier access to naloxone, an opioid reversal drug. The bill also pumps money to prosecutors to focus more resources on fentanyl prosecutions. 

Weiser has said fighting fentanyl, including directing prosecutions to the statewide grand jury, which he manages, is among his top priorities.

On Colorado’s increase in auto thefts, Weiser supports getting rid of lesser penalties for thieves who steal cheaper cars.

If re-elected, Weiser wants to continue working with disseminating the opioid money and he wants to continue working on police training and recruitment. 

John Kellner - Republican - Challenger

Republican John Kellner is the elected district attorney for the largest judicial district in the state, representing Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. He came to Colorado for law school and is still a member of the Marine Corps Reserve.  He and his wife live in Arapahoe County and have two kids. 

Kellner’s career as a prosecutor means he has focused on Colorado’s increased crime rates as one of the biggest reasons voters should unseat Weiser. 

Kellner said he would like to make better use of the statewide grand jury to crack down on drug cartels and he would oppose proposed bills in the legislature that liberalized the state’s drug possession or crime laws. 

Kellner said he believes Colorado’s crime rates, which have been on the rise since 2019 in many categories, are directly due to legislation passed at the state legislature.

He attributes an increase in Colorado’s auto theft rates to a law passed last year that overhauled misdemeanors, though there has been a state law for more than 20 years that doles out different penalties to people convicted of auto theft based on the value of the car they stole. Kellner supports getting rid of that.

“That is unacceptable and we do not have to accept that as the status quo,” he said. “As the state's chief law enforcement official, which is the attorney general, I will be an advocate for public safety. I will hold those accountable who prey on our loved ones because behind all of those statistics I just told you are real people. They're your neighbors and friends.” 

On abortion, Kellner has said he personally supported the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision returning the issue of abortion back to states. But he said the people of Colorado have spoken on abortion multiple times and he has committed to defending the state’s laws, no matter his personal feelings.

“I’m not running for attorney general to take away people’s rights,” he said, in a debate in Grand Junction. “I think abortion is a deeply personal decision. It's one that in my own life, and my wife and I have talked about this, we would choose life and that's a personal choice that's related to our personal situation.”

If elected, Kellner said he will put renewed emphasis on the state’s opioid and fentanyl epidemics. He notes that, as a lead prosecutor in a big area, he’s had success in prosecuting drug traffickers, including a large one last year

He said he didn’t support the fentanyl legislation passed earlier this year because it didn’t move all possession of fentanyl to a felony.  

“I am committed to using every tool in my toolbox as a prosecutor and as a crime fighter to fight the people who are currently fueling this opioid crisis,” Kellner said.