John Kellner

18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner at a news conference last June announcing a major drug bust by his office and other law enforcement agencies. Kellner is running for Colorado attorney general. (Associated Press)

The Colorado attorney general’s race this fall comes down to a simple choice between a prosecutor and a professor.

With an unprecedented crime wave engulfing our state, we’ll vote for the prosecutor.

That’s John Kellner. A Republican, he was elected in 2020 to his current post as district attorney of the state’s largest judicial district, the 18th, in the south Denver metro area. Kellner has been putting bad guys behind bars throughout his career, starting as a Marine judge advocate on active duty in Afghanistan. He is now a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserve.

The professor is Phil Weiser. A Democrat and Colorado’s current attorney general, he was elected to the post in 2018 and is seeking re-election. Weiser has spent much of his career as a distinguished member of the University of Colorado Law School faculty in Boulder, where he also served as dean. His expertise is in telecommunications, technology and antitrust law.

Kellner is a career crime fighter; Weiser is a career scholar. Both are accomplished in their fields, and both are smart, engaging and likable public figures.

But as Colorado continues to be slammed by skyrocketing violent and property crime — we’re No. 1 in the U.S. for auto theft — our state needs a crime fighter, not a scholar, as attorney general. John Kellner has the right credentials for the job. His experience and focus are precisely what the state needs to optimize the AG’s office for the crime fight.

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The AG has plenty of other responsibilities, too, but Kellner’s top priority will be to leverage the office’s assets to flatten Colorado’s steep crime curve. He recently told The Gazette’s editorial board, for example, he’d make extensive use of the statewide grand jury. It can be used to indict criminal suspects in auto theft rings, drug syndicates and the like.

Kellner points out he also will aggressively prosecute the war on crime from his bully pulpit as attorney general. Colorado’s attorney general in fact can have a lot of input into what criminal-justice bills are introduced at the legislature. Weiser has been largely AWOL in using that influence to push for tougher crime bills — and has been too kind to bills that are soft on crime.

The two candidates continue to debate exactly where Weiser has stood on absurd and reckless “justice reform” legislation that lowered penalties for wide-ranging offenses over the past few years — decriminalizing fentanyl and other hard drugs; making auto theft a wrist-slapping offense; the list goes on. Even the kindest reading of Weiser’s record makes clear he did too little, too late to blunt any of it.

Of course, it is Weiser’s own party that controls the legislature and has helped usher in Colorado’s crippling crime wave with laws that coddle criminals. Maybe that’s why he has been timid about taking on the criminal apologists in his party’s fringe, which has been running the show over on the Capitol’s second floor. Kellner, by contrast, will have no reservations about challenging what he denounces as “offender-friendly” legislation at the Capitol.

In a recent Q&A with our editorial board, both candidates checked a lot of the right boxes about getting tough on crime. In light of Weiser’s inaction the past four years, however, his responses come across as mere talk.

At best, Phil Weiser seems like a Johnny come lately to the crime fight. John Kellner has been in the ring all along. Vote for Kellner as Colorado’s next attorney general.