I met this afternoon with Attorney General John Suthers. He was gracious enough to give me an hour of his time, and it was very illuminating.
The biggest thing that hit me was we were about 30 minutes into the interview and I realized that he had not said a single thing that was political. Not even by the longest most tortured logic could you view anything he said as being even of a political nature. It was all what the job required.
I brought that up then stating that "you know, not a single thing you said could be viewed as..." and he finished it with "...political? Yes I know." He then talked about how executing the job of Attorney General properly makes it a very a-political job. He was quite contemptuous of the AGs like Eliot Spitzer who found laws to enforce political actions they deemed appropriate. (Apparently the State of Colorado is presently being sued by the AG of New York over a coal plant being built here.)
He also discussed how he would render an opinion and the Republicans loved him and the Democrats would call it politics. And he would then render another opinion and the Democrats loved him and the Republicans were upset. This led into a discussion about the advantage of being elected into a legal office, you follow the law and that gives you a clear set of guidelines. So unlike other elected offices, it gives him a foundation to tell people no.
The most telling comment on this subject was there are very few decisions that are at all borderline. Now others will clearly disagree with him at times, and his personal philosophy & interpretation of the law influences his decisions, but he clearly views most of what he does as determine what the law requires as opposed to what is politically advantageous.
With that said, he did say that two of the positions in his office are clearly political appointments. But political in that he wants people who take the same philosophical view to the law as he does. So Republican AGs tend to put Republicans in those positions and Democrats tend to put Democrats. But it's because of common philosophy more than political identification.
A large part of the discussion was what he and his office are doing. Based on the amount of time talking about it and the tone of his voice, their efforts to eliminate meth is clearly major to him. He heads up the state-wide task force addressing this and feels very good about the progress being made.
He also spoke highly of the effort Mexico is putting in to fighting drugs and says that under President Calderón Mexico for the first time is putting in a significant effort. And he spoke of the high price they have paid in killed police.
He also talked about their efforts to find and prosecute Internet predators. They've gotten a couple of hundred and he said that if they had twice the manpower they could get twice as many people. Clearly they are just getting started and this effort will continue and hopefully grow. He also worked to get laws on the books about Internet crimes - we apparently had none before 2006.
And then we got to the subject that takes a larger chunk of effort than any other in his office. One that had numerous facets and required a number of experts to handle it. We're talking about water of course. If you want to understand how central water is to government efforts in this state, just take a look at resource allocation in the Attorney General's office.
The most humorous was they are about to finish the latest battle in the water war we have had with Kansas - for 108 years. When I asked if this was the end of the war or just the end of the battle he replied that as we've been fighting for 108 years, it's unlikely there will be no more battles. Yet this never makes the paper.
His big worry on water is that when Colorado takes all the water it has rights to in the Colorado River that Arizona/Nevada/California are going to go ballistic because they have gotten used to what they pull out of it. And the way he talked about working out the recent compromise on the Colorado River, it was almost something that became a major battle.
When I brought up Mark Twain's quote "whiskey is for drinking but water is for fighting" he agreed.
He also voiced the wish that each legislator was limited to two bills and that the session was shorter. He does have a point that some of the less thought out bills address problems that are not that significant and/or have unintended consequences. But my personal opinion is also that he's the one that then has to go enforce these laws, change existing enforcement, etc. And I'm guessing that in a lot of cases the people in his office are figuring the goal is not worth the effort - and they're probably correct some of the time.
It ended on an interesting note, I was done and asked him if he had any questions. He asked me if I was going to ask him about his having considered running for Senate and/or Governor. So I asked him.
On running for Governor he said that he is philosophically opposed to a sitting Attorney General running against an incumbent Governor - because he is the Governor's lawyer. It definitely does create special conflicts and so kudos to him for that.
But the real interesting answer was his one on the Senate. As he said, running for Senate is a full-time job for 2 years. And he thinks it is wrong to leave the Attorney General seat effectively empty for 2 years. He didn't explicitly say it but he alluded to how a legislator can do that because the legislature still operates. But the State of Colorado needs him doing his job for the next two years. So major kudos for this.
Speaking as an ardent Democrat, I think John Suthers is doing a really good job. He is clearly thoughtful & intelligent. And he is successfully and effectively running the department to best serve the state. (Boy am I going to get hammered by fellow Dems for saying this.)