Colorado House firebrand Joe Salazar, a Democratic representative from Thornton, announced Friday he is running for state attorney general motivated by the desire to act as “the people’s lawyer” in a national political climate he views as threatening to democratic values and processes and to civil rights.
“People get upset that I challenge Democratic leaders and Republicans the way I do, but they know who I am and what I stand for,” he told The Colorado Statesman. “Being attorney general is about protecting Coloradans. It’s also about supporting business where it needs to be supported and helping boost prosperity in the state. But the job is about helping the people first, and always.”
Salazar said he looks forward to running against the record of current Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, who hasn’t announced yet whether she intends to run for re-election.
“Cynthia Coffman is an attorney for industry,” he said, pointing to the fact that Coffman is currently suing Boulder County “on behalf of the oil and gas industry,” as he put it. Coffman is seeking to force the County Commission to lift a moratorium on new drilling projects. “That’s not putting people first. I go out there to people’s homes. I sit in their kitchens and look out their windows at the drilling rigs. Coffman isn’t doing that.”
“Running against Coffman is running against Trump,” Salazar said. “Trump is the Republican standard bearer. He’s also a demagogue and, no matter how hard they try, [Republicans] can’t run from him.”
Salazar was an early and outspoken supporter last year of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. At the state Democratic convention, Salazar acted as a lightning rod for energized Sanders supporters, many of them new to primary-election politics. His statewide attorney general run may well re-ignite that bitterly disappointed constituency.
In November, Salazar was elected to his third term in the House. He practices civil rights and constitutional law. He has also worked for the state’s regulatory agency as a civil rights and criminal investigator.
The announcement that Salazar is running for statewide office will come as little surprise to politics watchers. He has been an outsized figure at the Capitol.
As a lawmaker, Salazar proudly draws on his Latino and Native American heritage. He has been a fierce champion of minority rights and a strong advocate for government accountability. His passionate floor speeches often include extemporized stretches that rarely fail to find their way into headlines. He swings between intense condemnations and comic jabs. He calls out members of the Legislature, targets the governor’s office, rails against institutional injustice.
He is also the sponsor of the Ralph Carr Freedom Defense Act, named after the Republican governor of Colorado who pushed back against federal policies that targeted Japanese Americans for detainment during World War II. The so-called “sanctuary” bill would prohibit Colorado and Colorado cities and towns from participating in any Trump administration efforts to detain or monitor Coloradans based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin or immigration status.
Salazar in January negotiated with Denver International Airport authorities on behalf of the crowd assembled there to protest President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Salazar is running for attorney general under the slogan “Can’t be bought. Can’t be bullied.”
Salazar likely will face a primary, since Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, who lost a bid for the office in 2014, filed his candidacy affidavit on Thursday.
The last Democrat to serve as attorney general was longtime high-profile Colorado Democratic Party figure Ken Salazar, who left the office in 2005 for the U.S. Senate. The men are not related.
Joe said Ken offered him advice and that Ken appreciated his motivation to run.
“We talked about how it’s an interesting time in our country and how it’s a good time to serve.”