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From Salazar to Suthers

Owens nominates Colorado’s U.S. attorney as next AG

By Leigh E. Rich

Despite saying the day after the Nov. 2 election that “I’ve got a lot of discussion to do before I start to narrow the possible field down to a few names,” Gov. Bill Owens admitted in a press conference this Thursday that, even early on in the process of selecting a replacement for Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, “I really knew who I was going to pick.”

And that person is John Suthers, the current U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado who unsuccessfully ran against Salazar for the state’s attorney general position in 1998.

In fact, Owens said yesterday, Suthers “was the person I was most focused on really from Nov. 2”—even though he told reporters on Nov. 3 that he didn’t have a short list and that he was “going to spend a matter of weeks, if not the full amount of time” considering the appointment and refrain from making any hurried decisions. “I’m going to talk to Ken some more … talk to legislative leadership, talk to people in my party, talk to the legal community, talk to judges.”

In addition to Suthers, a few others did make Owens’ short list, he said, including Troy Eid, Owens’ former legal counsel; current state Rep. and Sen.-elect Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield; and even state Sen. Dan Grossman, D-Denver. However, the governor cautioned, “this is not an inclusive list” and had as many as six or seven names on it.

Even current Attorney General Salazar pitched Owens 29 potential names of successors last week—a list that consisted of both Democratic and Republicans lawyers, including Suthers.

Joining in the Dec. 9 press conference, Salazar said he was “delighted” with the governor’s selection, despite having issued a vague warning at his own press conference on Monday—three days before Owens’ announced his nominee—that it was possible there “would not be a smooth transition” in the office of Colorado’s highest attorney. Salazar even spoke of a potential “logjam … that could go on for the next several years.”

As set forth in the Colorado Constitution, Suthers’ appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate, now in the hands of Democratic leadership by one seat.

But the extent of this hubbub over the past month concerning Salazar’s replacement may be all for naught.

According to Owens, Suthers’ record of service to the state of Colorado “has really been above reproach.” Before being President George W. Bush’s appointment as Colorado’s U.S. attorney, Suthers was the Owens administration’s executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections and, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, served two terms as the district attorney for Colorado’s fourth judicial district.

Salazar called Suthers “a person who is a professional, a person who has integrity, a person of humility. And he is a person who will make a great attorney general for the state of Colorado.”

And Senate Dems issued a statement Thursday explaining they are eager to begin the confirmation process.

“We should be able to get through this process without a whole lot of fanfare,” said Senate President-elect Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, though stating that they “plan to look at Mr. Suthers’ career and background thoroughly.”

Grossman even went so far as to say he is “pleased that we will be considering Mr. Suthers” and “expressed optimism” to begin the process.

Colorado’s Republican senators apparently feel similarly. The next session’s Senate Minority Leader Mark Hillman, R-Burlington, deemed Suthers “a very qualified candidate” and said he looks forward to getting “him confirmed and on the job quickly and efficiently.”

Though not directly involved in the confirmation process, House Speaker-elect Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, also said via a press release he “would be pleased to work with him (Suthers),” and incoming House Judiciary Chair Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, agreed.

“Although I haven’t always agreed with him, I have found him to be a man of honesty and integrity,” Carroll said.

Even Suthers participated in the warm bipartisan sentiments disseminated Thursday, telling Salazar “your presence here today touches me greatly. It is an act of statesmanship at a time where there’s way too little statesmanship in politics.”

Like his predecessor, Suthers then promised to place the interests of the state of Colorado above partisan politics and to continue the programs and the posture of the current attorney general’s office.

“On the basis of my 27 years of experience as a lawyer in both the public and private sector, I am confident that I am well prepared for the task,” Suthers said. “I pledge that if I am confirmed as attorney general that no person in Colorado will be beyond the reach of the law and every person in Colorado will have the protection of the law.”

He also assured Salazar and the citizens of Colorado that the transition would be a smooth one.

“This will be the fourth office that I have come (into) from the outside, and I found the way to do that is to come in, acknowledge that you have a lot to learn, listen to the people that are in the office, (and) gather information from them. And only after you’ve been there for some period of time are you in a position to start making your own assessment. … That’s how I would do it here. That’s how I’ve done it in every other job.”

His transition in salary, however, might be another matter. Jokingly telling reporters “my wife is standing here and I wish that you had not just brought that up,” Suthers called the difference in wages “very significant.” Going from an initial yearly paycheck of $138,000 as a U.S. attorney, Suthers will only bring home $80,000 as Colorado’s next AG.

But it’s worth it, he intimated, “to have it as your job to protect the safety and the welfare of the people of this state.

“For a lawyer interested in public service it just doesn’t get any better than that. It’s a great responsibility to serve as attorney general, because you must be beholden only to the rule of law. Your actions must be guided by law, the evidence and the interests of the people of Colorado.”

And as for 2006, when the midterm appointment would be up, Suthers said with the prudence of a politician: “I am focused on the next two years, and I hope everybody understands that,” though admitting that he and Owens “had some discussions about that.”

“Frankly, I’m focused on the next month. I need to transition out of a very important job and make sure that that goes well. … I need to transition into a very important job. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Rich, L. E. (2004, December 10). From Salazar to Suthers: Owens nominates next AG. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1–2.

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