Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Editor’s note: The Journal today profiles the two Democrats running for state attorney general in the June 7 primary election as part of a ongoing series examining contested statewide races.
Both candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for the state attorney general are formidable elected officials currently holding high-powered jobs. And both are lawyers, as required by the state Constitution.
But there’s a distinct contrast in styles, personalities and experience.
Brian Colón has practiced civil law, and pushed for transparency and accountability in government since his election as State Auditor in 2017. A former state Democratic Party chief and longtime community fundraiser, he touts his ability to build relationships and bring people together.
Raúl Torrez is an outspoken two-term criminal prosecutor overseeing the state’s largest district attorney’s office, who most recently has led a fight to fix what he calls New Mexico’s “broken” criminal justice system. He touts his independence and says he doesn’t mind “ruffling feathers” along the way.
The Attorney General’s Office has primary authority for enforcement of consumer protection and antitrust laws, prosecution of criminal appeals and some complex white-collar crimes, training and certifying peace officers, and most natural resources and environmental matters, according to the current AG’s office.
Departing Attorney General Hector Balderas, who is term-limited, also has taken the lead on prosecuting public corruption involving state officials and investigating violations of the state’s open records law – two other responsibilities typically left to the AG’s office.
But this year, crime fighting, particularly violent crime, has framed the political debate in the AG race.
Rising crime is a hot button issue in political campaigns across the country, and the two Democrats running in the June 7 primary say they believe the state’s top attorney can have an impact.
Torrez points out he’s a career prosecutor while accusing Colón of being a career politician. Colón, who has no criminal prosecution experience, has attacked Torrez’s record running the Albuquerque-based office of 100 attorneys, calling him a “failed” DA.
There’s also disagreement between the two over the AG’s office reliance on out-of-state counsel to litigate civil cases for New Mexico taxpayers. Colón defends the current practice while Torrez wants to find ways to keep more of the legal work in-house.
Both are waging aggressive campaigns that feature attack ads, and the gloves came off during a recent KRQE television debate.
There are less high-profile, but still-important issues facing the next attorney general, they agree.
For example, the next AG could very well play a role in protecting reproductive rights in New Mexico if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, they say.
The winner of the Democratic contest will face Republican attorney Jeremy Gay of Gallup in the fall general election. But either Colón or Torrez will have the edge, given that Democrats have held the seat all but three times in the state’s 110-year history.