Facing Inertia
Weiser focuses on role of innovation in effective democracy

by Julia Cardi

As Colorado attorney general, Phil Weiser said he doesn’t want to hear that the office should keep doing things the way they’ve always been done just because. And he said government innovation is about more than just improving efficiency for its own sake: It can affect the faith people have in their government.

“People are looking at these [legal and governmental] institutions and saying, ‘I don’t believe they’re working for me,’” Weiser said. “Right now we’re in an existential moment to prove that we can make government work.”

He made his remarks for a Colorado Law Talks speech put on by the University of Colorado Law School. The former CU Law dean focused his talk on the implication government innovation has for democracy, how Colorado’s entrepreneurial community positions the state to stay on the forefront and what he hopes to do as attorney general in keeping with his philosophy of innovation in government.

Weiser has already established himself as an advocate of government innovation as founder of the CU’s Silicon Flatirons Center, which holds an annual pitch night for its Government Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator. Through the accelerator, teams of law students and government employees come up with programs to improve efficiencies and save money in Colorado’s governments.

Weiser used the development of the Energy Star certification system as an example of a government innovation that responded to consumers’ wants. Created in 1992, it provides information about the energy efficiency of appliances, homes, commercial buildings and industrial plants.

“Consumers wanted energy-efficient appliances, if only they knew which ones met those standards,” he said. “And so the government developed this Energy Star certification program, which has saved consumers at this point probably billions of dollars, and has become an effective way of addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

COLORADO AS A PIONEER

Developments in three very different areas of law in Colorado stand out to Weiser as examples of how Colorado can be a beacon of government innovation. He first pointed to the obscure area of water law.

Communities in the San Luis Valley have drained their aquifers because of water shortages and the state engineer directed the valley to come up with innovative strategies to replenish its aquifers in 20 years. Subdistricts were created in the area around the river basin in order to collaborate and come up with ideas for using less water.

“That inspires me about what we need to do in public policy more generally,” Weiser said.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the March 4, 2019 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.