House Minority Leader Mark Waller on Monday brought to a close perhaps the worst kept political secret of the year — whether he would run for attorney general in 2014.
The Colorado Springs Republican joined with his family, friends and supporters at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver to announce that he would in fact run for the office. In a news advisory last week, Waller said only that he would be making an “exciting” announcement. But the local political world knew what that announcement would be.
“I’m not just a legislator running for office, I’m a regular guy running for office…” Waller said in announcing his candidacy. “And because I’m not just a legislator running for office, I have been a regular guy over the years… I know that all of those qualities that I’ve gained over time… will serve me very well as Colorado’s next attorney general.”
Waller has always portrayed himself as an ordinary citizen who happens to be a legislator. He was a regular presence during the legislative session at Prohibition, a bar near the Capitol where many lobbyists and politicos frequent for happy hour. Waller was often seen talking about a range of topics that did not always have to do with legislative matters, such as baseball and music. He loves the Chicago Cubs and he says his favorite band is a tossup between R.E.M. and the Counting Crows.
To further the point that he is not Colorado’s average politician, Waller brought in from Atlanta his good friend Chris Gray, who served with him in the Air Force. Gray said that when he met Capt. Waller, he immediately saw a natural leader.
“Usually it takes about eight to 10 months to settle into a reserve unit and get the training on operating these low-flying, fast-moving satellites. But Mark’s impact on the unit was immediate,” attested Gray. “It was in large part because of his personality and his intangible skills.”
A host of powerful Republicans have already endorsed Waller, despite his formidable competition in the race. Waller is expected to face off in a primary against Chief Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, the wife of Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora. The candidates are vying to replace Republican Attorney General John Suthers, who is term limited.
Attending Waller’s announcement were Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango, Reps. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, Don Coram of Montrose, Dan Nordberg of Colorado Springs, Lois Landgraf of Fountain, El Paso and Teller counties District Attorney Dan May, former Rep. Keith Swerdfeger of Pueblo West and El Paso County Republican Party Vice Chair Sandra Bankes.
Also in attendance was Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call. The state party typically does not back candidates in primary races. Call said he was there only in presence, and that he tries to attend as many campaign announcements as possible. Cynthia Coffman did not have an event surrounding her announcement.
“The decision on who the nominee will become is always up to the Republican voters,” said Call.
Waller’s family also surrounded him, including his wife, Jennifer, and his two children, Truman and Camille. The kids led the “Pledge of Allegiance” at the beginning of the event.
Much of Waller’s announcement revolved around his family. He cited his wife as a major driving force in his life, saying she is, “the glue that holds Team Waller together.”
He recalled how he became involved in law in the first place, which started with a drive to work when he and his wife were “young captains” in the Air Force stationed in California. About 25 minutes into the 45-minute drive, Waller realized he had forgotten his line badge, a necessary credential to get into the facility.
After throwing a bit of a tantrum, which Waller described as “flipping out,” he got to the base “frustrated and disappointed.” But then he had what he referred to as a “Paul on the road to Damascus sort of experience.”
“God struck me down off of my Isuzu Rodeo donkey and had a talk with me right then and there,” joked Waller.
It was at a four-way stop that Waller spotted one of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps officers, or JAG Corps, one of the Air Force attorneys.
“And at that moment in time I realized I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing with my life, and that’s why I was frustrated, and that’s why I was upset,” recalled Waller. “I wasn’t being fulfilled to my full potential as a person. And I realized in that moment right then and there that I was supposed to stop what I was doing in the military and I was supposed to go to law school.
“Everything we did from that moment on was to prepare for this moment today,” Waller continued.
He pointed to several accomplishments, including passing legislation that created a per se limit for driving under the influence of marijuana in Colorado.
Waller also remains concerned with the 7 percent unemployment rate in the state, calling it “unacceptable.” He said he would use his voice as attorney general to work with state agencies to ensure the best regulatory environment to allow businesses to thrive.
Waller also would defend the state against overreach by the federal government, he said.
His supporters seem to agree that Waller’s preparation has paved the way for the Attorney General’s Office.
“Mark Waller is the right man to replace John Suthers as our next attorney general in Colorado,” opined May. “He is a dedicated public servant… A lot of us talk about swearing to uphold our constitution and fighting for it. Mark has literally done that.”
“It is his personality and his natural leadership abilities that have shown through in the several years that I have known him in the legislature…” added Roberts. “As attorney general you’re representing the entire state… and I am confident that Mark Waller will do that.”
“We need someone who understands both the law and justice, and as we stand here in front of the DU law library I’m reminded that justice ultimately is not written in the books in the library behind me, but rather, justice must be written and rewritten daily in the hearts of our citizens and especially of our leaders… and this is what I have come to know about my friend Mark Waller,” remarked Gardner.
Waller plans to resign his House leadership post to make way for his run for statewide office. He is expected to resign on July 11 when Republicans select their next House leader. Rep. Brian DelGrosso of Loveland is expected to earn the nod from his colleagues to take over as House minority leader.
But Waller must first earn the nomination of his party to run for attorney general, and to do that he must take on Coffman, who has vast experience in the public law sector. Last year she was voted best public sector lawyer by the weekly newspaper Law Week Colorado.
She has spent nearly her entire career in public policy. She first worked for the attorney general of Georgia, and then moved to Colorado in 1997, landing a job with Colorado Legislative Council.
She went on to work for the Department of Public Health and Environment as director of legal and regulatory affairs before being promoted to deputy executive director of the department.
In 2004, Coffman served as chief legal counsel for then-Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, before being tapped by Suthers for deputy attorney general, where she has worked since 2005.
Similar to Waller’s announcement, Coffman outlined her dedication to law, separating herself from a world of politics. But unlike Waller, Coffman actually is not a politician. This is her first race for public office.
“I have made a career of public service,” Coffman said in her campaign announcement on June 12. “The majority of my 22 years of law practice have been spent as a government attorney. I am a lawyer at heart, not a politician.
“In fact, I’ve never run for elected office before,” she continued. “I want to be attorney general because I am committed to serving Colorado as the state’s top lawyer and law enforcement official.”
She said her focus would be on rural Colorado, protecting water rights, as drought increasingly becomes more of a problem. She also believes Colorado should be protected from the federal government overstepping its authority.
Coffman was also outraged when Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, would not sign the order to execute convicted killer Nathan Dunlap.
“The integrity of our criminal justice system has been diminished by a flawed corrections system and unenforced death penalty,” she said. “I will champion our district attorneys and law enforcement officials as they defend Colorado’s public safety.
“There is a lot of work to be done and I am ready to step in and run the Attorney General’s Office on my first day in office,” Coffman continued. “I look forward to protecting Coloradans, from the classroom to the courtroom, from the family room to the boardroom.”
Don Quick, the Democrat
Whichever Republican wins the primary, they will likely face off against former Adams County District Attorney Don Quick, the only Democrat to have announced a campaign.
At his campaign announcement at the Capitol on May 6, perhaps the state’s best-known Democrat, former Interior Secretary and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, endorsed Quick.
Quick has placed a focus on his work with juvenile justice, pointing to a 44 percent drop in juvenile crime in Adams County. Most violent crimes by juveniles dropped by 92 percent from eight years ago, he said.
Quick also would focus on environmental law, working to balance protecting state interests with a sustainable approach to climate change. He believes environmental crimes should be a priority.
“We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I want to make sure that’s available not just for my kids, but for my grandkids,” stated Quick.
He said he had been contemplating running for attorney general for some time, but that the timing wasn’t right in the past. He believes he is now in a good position to run for office.
“What I had asked myself is, ‘What do you want to do with the office?’” Quick explained. “Whether you can win the office or not, I don’t think that’s what you should be asking yourself. But if you’re going to do a year-and-a-half statewide campaign, what’s at the end of that?
“For me, it was trying at the state level to do some of the things that we’ve done in Adams County,” he added.