Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler hasn’t decided whether he will run for governor of Colorado in 2014, but either way he’ll keep reminding voters of incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper’s decision to grant convicted mass murderer Nathan Dunlap an indefinite stay of execution.
“I’m very comfortable in the role of being a constant reminder of the injustice and the indecision and the weak leadership that Gov. Hickenlooper displayed in this Dunlap case and other matters,” the Republican prosecutor told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“I am happy to be a reminder to the public of that.”
Dunlap was to be put to death sometime between Aug. 18-24 for gunning down four people in an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in 1993.
But earlier this year Hickenlooper took the unprecedented step of indefinitely staying Dunlap’s execution. A future governor can revoke the stay, leading many critics to accuse Hickenlooper of punting the life or death decision to someone else.
The move stunned and angered Brauchler, who represents the district where the murders took place.
“To suggest somehow that this governor’s queasiness over [allowing] this process to continue is a basis for him suspending application of the law is offensive to our way of government,” he said. “It’s offensive to the Constitution. It’s offensive to the voters of Colorado.”
Brauchler’s impassioned statements about what he calls Hickenlooper’s lack of leadership — both immediately after the stay was announced as well as before an audience of Republicans several weeks later — put him into the spotlight as a possible contender for Hickenlooper’s job.
Hickenlooper’s decision was extremely unpopular, with a Quinnipiac poll showing 67 percent of Coloradoans disapprove of it. His critics saw it as the ultimate in waffling and indecision, choosing neither flat-out clemency nor death, but seeking a middle ground that almost no one was satisfied with.
“This specific case is really a highlight of what I think the weaknesses of this governor are,” Brauchler said. “They’re just weaknesses of leadership. He’s indecisive. He appears to be plodding, to the point where he’d rather things just happen and he can get behind them after they happen. It’s a small example of the bigger issue here.”
Brauchler said that if he runs, it won’t solely be because of the Dunlap issue. But, he said, “The first thing I would do would be to repeal the executive order and see that justice is done.”
The decision of whether to run for governor may come down to one of “duty over opportunity,” Brauchler said. His office is prosecuting James Holmes for the Aurora theater shooting, a case that the whole world will be watching. The estimated five-month trial is scheduled to start in February, meaning it will run through prime campaigning months.
Brauchler said he plans to be in the courtroom every day for Holmes’ trial.
“I would not want my attention to be divided,” he said. “I would also not want to do anything to distract the community, my team, even the jury, by some political efforts on my behalf. This case is about justice, not politics. I don’t want to turn it into something it’s not.”
“If I had to pick one” — prosecuting Holmes or running for governor — “I would pick the one I have the duty to perform not the opportunity to explore,” he said.
Nevertheless, he hasn’t yet made an ultimate decision. Brauchler said he’s discussed the possibility with his family and spoken to Republican Party leaders, as well as some Democrats. He said he’s not necessarily in a hurry to make his decision.
But he reiterated that whatever he decides, his opinions about Hickenlooper’s leadership style as reflected in the Dunlap case won’t be silenced.
“Every day after Aug. 24 is a day that John Hickenlooper, all by himself, forced the taxpayers to subsidize the life of this mass murderer, Nathan Dunlap,” he said. “Every day after the 24th is a day that he’s above ground that we’re paying for him that we wouldn’t have had to.”
“Also, we’ve got these victims [of Dunlap] out there who I presume are looking at this week on the calendar and it’s been circled months ago when it got picked [as the week of execution] and they’re thinking this is the week this would have all been over and now it’s not,” he said.
“There is no person in the state of Colorado, perhaps on plant Earth, who is more invested in Gov. Hickenlooper’s re-election than Nathan Dunlap, one of the greatest mass murderers in the history of our state.”
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