Colorado Senate Watch 2020: John Walsh represented the state in federal court, now he wants to represent the state in Congress

The former federal prosecutor wants to focus on healthcare, gun regulation and environmental policy.
4 min. read
U.S. Senate candidate John Walsh poses for a portrait inside his South Park Hill Home, May 1, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh spent six years serving as the chief federal prosecutor in Colorado, so he knows a thing or two about what it's like to fight for the interests of an entire state.

This experience is one of the ways Walsh, 57, will try to separate himself among the laundry list of Democrats vying for a chance to take on U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner next year. He's jumping in a race that suddenly feels like it has more candidates than the presidential one. (OK, maybe not that many.)

When Walsh announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate last month, it seemed like a new candidate announced every day. But like many other candidates, he's not feeling deterred by all the other faces.

Walsh was nominated to serve as U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado by President Obama in 2010. He stepped down from the position in 2016 and joined law firm WilmerHale in 2017, resigning from that position in March as he prepared to launch his candidacy. Before serving as a federal prosecutor for Colorado, Walsh worked as a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.

"One of the things that is ... sort of a central part of (how) I've tried to handle my career has been always being an advocate for people who are sort of regular Coloradans, regular Americans, against whatever large institutions might be trying to take advantage of them," Walsh said.

He feels like he did this as a federal attorney when he was tasked with prosecuting white-collar crimes and pharmaceutical companies. He was appointed in 2013 to serve as co-chair for a white collar subcommittee by then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Walsh would later take part of the investigative process that led to the giant $7 billion settlement from Citigroup over financial misconduct in 2014.

He said his biggest motivation for running is a feeling Washington isn't listening to what the majority of Americans support.

"Cory Garnder has been aiding and abetting the administration's effort in that regard," Walsh said, calling out Garnder's attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He added, "That's not the way this Constitution is supposed to work ... We need to bring it back to a place where we have a functioning Democracy where people's opinions do matter."

Three of his biggest policy focuses will be increasing access to healthcare, addressing climate change and pushing for gun reform legislation.

"We need to make sure that every American has access to affordable and high-quality healthcare," Walsh said. "We don't have that now."

Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh speaks on a panel at Brother Jeff's Cultural Center in Five Points, Sept. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

That would mean opposing Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare and, beyond that, providing a public health insurance option.

He wants to bring gun reform laws to Congress. Because of Colorado's history -- Walsh personally witnessed the aftermath of mass shootings in Aurora and in Colorado Springs -- he believes the state has been a leader in this arena. He wants to bring legislation for things like universal background checks, magazine limits and the recently-passed red-flag bill to Washington.

He knows this is a very tall task in Congress. But if he's successful in flipping the seat, it would be a key gain for Democrats hoping to create a majority in the Senate and introduce such legislation.

"Magazine limits will save lives," Walsh said. The Aurora theater gunman reportedly used a 100-round magazine on an AR-15 rifle that ended up jamming. "If he had a five-bullet magazine, he would have had to reload ... I have no doubt that lives would have been saved at that point."

Addressing climate change is another key area. He grew up doing all the prototypical Colorado outdoors stuff, like rock climbing, but he pointed out that the environment in the state has changed since he first started doing this in the 1970s.

He supports parts of the Green New Deal, including its overarching goal, but he has some hesitations about what he calls some of the plan's "aspirational" goals.  He believes it's feasible for the U.S. to move from fossil fuel to "a renewable energy economy," including taking steps like funding for research and development, as well as looking at tax credits and incentives that will encourage shifting toward renewable energy.

"If we could do it here, the rest of the world will follow," Walsh said.

Here are the other Democrats running against Gardner so far.

We've got some new names on the people who have announced:

  • Former ambassador Dan Baer
  • Climate activist Diana Bray
  • Economist Ellen Burnes
  • Former state Sen. Mike Johnston
  • Community organizer Lorena Garcia
  • Navy veteran Keith Pottratz
  • Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff
  • Professor Stephany Rose Spaulding
  • Scientist Trish Zornio

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