Phil the Wise

Written By Harrison Getches

The Spotlight’s Harrison Getches Interviews Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser

At the beginning of March, I had the honour of interviewing Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser. To start we talked about his career. Weiser began his education with a Bachelors degree at Swarthmore College, and then went on to obtain a J.D. degree, a doctorate in law, at the New York University School of Law. After graduation, Weiser was a law clerk first in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, then a law clerk under Justices Byron R. White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the U.S. Supreme Court. When asked what working under two of the most important people in the federal government was like, Weiser said, “It was a lot of pressure. On top of this, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the most demanding boss I’ve ever had.” He elaborated, “I learned from her what perfection in legal writing looks like. Every single word in every single sentence, she writes purposefully and mindfully.” It’s safe to say she is one of the best in her field. After his clerkships, Weiser was senior counsel to Joel Klein, the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, an agency that enforces U.S. antitrust laws, limiting the power of big corporations. Then he switched things up, moving into a role focused on education. He began to teach as a professor of law and telecommunications at the University of Colorado. 

Ten years later, Weiser made the switch back into a governmental role, when, in 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. In 2010, Obama then made him a senior advisor for technology and innovation to the National Economic Council Director. In 2011, Weiser moved back to education and he became the University of Colorado Dean of Law. There he was named one of the most influential leaders in legal education by the National Jurist. Being someone so involved in education, I asked him for advice he would give his former self back in high-school, and to every student reading this. He told me, “Seek out experiences that help you grow, and not to worry too much about grades.” He continued, “I worry about high-school students putting so much pressure on themselves in a way that’s not healthy.” I further asked if he had any advice for those who wish to follow in his footsteps and pursue a career in law. He said, “What’s interesting in law is how many paths there are. Anyone who says to you, ‘you have to do this to become a lawyer,’ probably doesn’t know what they are talking about. I took Latin in high school because someone said if you want to be a lawyer it’s helpful. I got no value from taking Latin. My advice to anyone who wants to be a lawyer is to follow what you’re passionate about, develop yourself as a person, and that will lead you on your path. There are so many different types of law, what you work on may fit in ways you wouldn’t expect.”

 In 2016, he stepped down as Dean and moved back to being a professor. Two years later, in 2018, Weiser ran as the Democratic candidate for Colorado’s Attorney General, defeating Republican candidate George Brauchler, to become the first Democratic Colorado Attorney General in 15 years.  I asked him why he decided to make the switch from an educational position back into a political one. He told me he viewed both his educational and political roles as extensions of his commitment to public service. He also said, “I would have normally imagined an opportunity to serve in the federal government a third time, and I had been thinking under a President Hillary Clinton I would have potentially had that opportunity. We are not in the world of a President Hillary Clinton, so that opportunity was not open to me. I then started thinking if I want to serve and contribute, I might have to start thinking of running for office myself. I had known it was a possibility, but until the 2016 election, I had never looked it in the face. Stars were aligning for me, and I thought there was a real purpose and calling for me to run for Attorney General, so I decided to make that transition.”

After talking about his background, I asked him what his priorities were as Attorney General moving into the new decade. “There are five major areas. The first one is the rule of law. And part of what makes this such a challenging time is that there is so much cynicism, and so much distrust, I want this department to be trustworthy and to act with real integrity on behalf of all the people in Colorado. Number two, take on the opioid epidemic. We are in a unique situation here to have the tools and ability to stand up for people and hold accountable the drug companies who have made money by hurting people. We get to help direct that money to support drug treatment and recovery as well as education and prevention. Third, we are committed to improving the criminal justice system, so ending cash bail, which I would view as an unfair reason to keep people in jail just because they are poor. We are helping support diversion programs, which are for people who are addicted to drugs so that they don’t end up going to jail or prison and instead go into direct treatment. Fourth, I want to make sure we are active in consumer protection. We just kicked off Consumer Protection Week (Mar. 1-7).” As part of Consumer Protection Week, in a press conference just one day before our interview he said, “As Attorney General, I will continue to fight to protect consumers and to give them the materials and tools they need to educate themselves about scams and how to avoid falling victim to them.” He continued in our interview, “And finally, protecting our land, air, and water. We have such a special state, with such an incredible set of natural resources, and we have to be vigilant in the face of climate change, we have to manage our water in a smart way, both the amount of water we have, and the quality of the water, we have to protect our air quality, and we have to protect our public lands.” I asked him a follow-up question, How should we source our power to best protect the environment. “Nuclear, wind and solar are options. A challenge with wind and solar is that they are intermittent, there not always available, so we have to think hard about storage solutions that would enable them to be available all the time, and in so far as we can’t we would need some sort of baseline fuel, and right now that would look like natural gas. Natural gas replacing coal has been part of how we are lowering our carbon emissions, but at some point, we will have played that out. We are making great progress in Colorado, we have a great plan, and the first part of that plan is replacing coal. Over time we are going to see the solar and wind sources rise. I don’t know if we will have nuclear power in Colorado.” From our interview, it is clear to me that Phil Weiser cares. Not just about his position, but about every person in Colorado, the land we live on, and about the future generations to come.