BOULDER — Cynthia Coffman, the state’s chief deputy attorney general, on Saturday won top-line designation over state Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, in the GOP primary to replace her boss, Attorney General John Suthers, who is term-limited.
Coffman scored 69.26 percent of the delegate vote at the Republican State Assembly at the Coors Events Center on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus, while Waller’s 30.74 percent vote barely cleared the 30-percent threshold required for a primary slot.
The winner of the June 24 primary faces Democrat Don Quick, the former district attorney for Adams and Broomfield counties, who won his party’s nomination unopposed the same day in Denver.
Suthers, the state’s top legal officer since 2005, has been mostly quiet about the primary but last week endorsed Coffman in a mailer to delegates and on Saturday joined her husband, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, to nominate her at the assembly.
“There is no reason to deny law-abiding citizens their constitutional rights — none, ever. And as your next attorney general, I won’t play politics with your rights,” Coffman said, accepting the nomination.
Reminding delegates that it was Republican attorneys general who sued to overturn portions of Obamacare, she said, “The attorney general is often the last line of defense when the federal government tries to bully us into yet another regulatory program or direct us to do business their way. It’s time for us to turn the tide at the state government level.”
“I am ready to join with other Republican attorneys general to sue the federal government as often as it takes to stop their power grab,” Coffman continued. “I am ready to sue over private property rights, I am ready to sue over roads on federal lands, I am ready to sue on the 10th Amendment and the 2nd Amendment and every amendment of the Constitution, if that’s what it takes.”
Coffman made only a glancing reference to her primary opponent, arguing that her decade of experience as Suthers’ lieutenant best qualified her for a job that her boss described as like no other political office in the state.
“I am running for the attorney general’s office not as a training ground, not as a political stepping stone to another office, but because this is a serious place where serious actions happen on behalf of people and their rights,” she said.
Waller framed the contest more explicitly.
“Today we have a choice. We have to decide what type of attorney general we want to represent us in the fight for our rights in Denver,” he said. “We’re going to be deciding if we want an active attorney general or somebody who’s going to be more passive in that role.”
Touting his experience in House leadership, Waller said he’s proven he’s on the side of conservatives when it counts.
“We need an attorney general who has a proven record of standing up to the liberals and taking the fight to them,” he said, listing the bipartisan creation of Obamacare-related insurance exchanges as an instance where Coffman stayed above the fray.
“Silence is not an option. We need an active leader willing to stand up to the political elites, regardless of what party they come from,” Waller said.
And when Democrats passed gun-control legislation last year, Waller said, he opposed it every step of the way.
“My opponent says that I’m too active,” he said. “Well, I’m not going to apologize for actively defending the Constitution and defending our western way of life.”
Finally, he faulted Coffman for sitting on her hands last fall when activists recalled two Democratic state senators and forced a third to resign.
“Unfortunately, during this turning point in our state’s history, my opponent stood on the sidelines,” Waller said.
But it wasn’t all speechifying and traditional arm-twisting. During the assembly, several unusual events swirled around the attorney general contest.
While Coffman supporters passed out nifty hats bearing the candidate’s signature teal-colored logo. former state Rep. Doug Bruce — who lost his seat in the Legislature when Waller beat him in a primary — was distributing a crude, mocking flier attacking Waller. The flier questioned Waller’s record of service in Iraq, accused Waller of running “a dirty campaign” against Bruce and urged delegates not to buy Waller’s supposed “personal smears” and “gross demagoguery.” It even questioned what Waller intended to “hide” by going by his middle name rather than Donald, “his true, legal first name.”
The Coffman campaign condemned the attack, issuing a statement saying it “does not condone, nor did it have any part in, the negative piece that Douglas Bruce was circulating today” and calling it “unacceptable to attack candidates for the sake of attacking candidates.”
A couple hours into the assembly, Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a “no-compromise” 2nd-Amendment advocacy group, passed word to reporters that some Republicans intended to nominate Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck for attorney general and predicted he would get as much as 45 percent of the delegate vote. (Buck was considering a bid for attorney general last year but instead campaigned for the U.S. Senate until late February when U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner jumped into that race and Buck switched to a run for Gardner’s 4th Congressional District seat. On Friday, Buck ran a close second behind state Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, to land a spot on the 4th CD primary ballot.)
The Buck backers learned that he would decline any floor nomination so switched tactics to encourage a write-in campaign, although several delegates say it was made clear that any votes cast for candidates who weren’t properly nominated would be marked “spoiled” and wouldn’t count either for the write-in candidate or against the total pool of ballots when determining whether a candidate met the 30-percent threshold.
As Coffman and Waller were being nominated — they were final candidates to speak — numerous county party chairs passed out ballots and some delegates began voting during the attorney general candidates’ speeches, raising the ire of more than a few Republicans. There was a motion made to empty the ballot boxes and destroy any ballots cast before the candidates had finished, but delegates rejected the proposal in a voice vote.
See the April 18 print edition for full photo coverage.