Political newcomer challenging DA Storey

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By AJ Vicens

When Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey announced in January that he’d be seeking a second term, there was no word on whom the Democrats might run against him.

Eight months later — and just three months before the November election — Storey finally has an opponent.

Vicky Peters, a Lakewood Democrat coming off a 20-year career as an environmental attorney in the Colorado attorney general's office, is Storey's challenger.

"I was asked to," Peters said simply when asked why she's challenging a popular incumbent in a district that often favors Republicans. "It's not like I sought it out. People came to me and said that there was the need. The only reasons I could find to say no were personal and seemed selfish. I'm a sucker for public service."

Peters, who has never run for public office before, is the first to admit she would have a lot to learn about running the Jeffco DA's office.

"I'm not going to pretend I have criminal experience," Peters said. "But a lot of the skill sets are the same in terms of really complex litigation."

Peters, 52, grew up in northern Virginia and attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She came to Denver to study environmental law at the University of Denver.

"I stayed because I fell in love with Colorado," Peters said. "It's such a great place to have horses, which is a top priority of mine."

She began her career after DU with a small Denver law firm but had always wanted to work in environmental law. An opportunity came up at the attorney general's office, and she "jumped on it."

Peters started in the AG’s office when the state was in tough negotiations with the U.S. Army and Shell Oil over cleanup of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a 27-square-mile former chemical weapons development site about 10 miles northeast of downtown Denver. The state was also battling mining companies in Leadville over cleanup of the California Gulch Superfund site. That case was recently settled for tens of millions of dollars, with the companies obligated to work with local and federal governments to remediate years of chemical leaks that ended up in the Arkansas River.

"I spent most of my career at the attorney general's office working on those two cases," Peters said. "That's why I'm so worn out. There was a big push to get the natural resource damage component resolved before I left."

Peters doesn't have much time to rest, because Storey has an eight-month head start in fund-raising and campaigning. That part of the race will be tough for Peters, who said she would rather talk about the DA's office and changes she would make than ask for money.

"I personally find it demeaning," Peters said of fund-raising for campaigns. "I think campaigns should be publicly financed. I have no doubt about that."

"I'm a substantive person," Peters said. "I'm going to be educating myself as best I can, trying to put out some ideas and suggestions on how I think the DA's office should be run, and if that appeals to people, great. I'm not enamored with the political process right now. I don't find it to be particularly substantive."

Peters said she should have a website up and running within a couple of weeks outlining specific ideas on how she would change or improve the Jeffco DA's office.

"Before this happened, I never thought once about being a district attorney and being involved in criminal law," Peters said.

For his part, Storey said he wants to focus on his accomplishments from the last three and a half years. He also wants to talk with voters about continuing work on combating ID theft, something he said was a priority when he first ran for DA.

"I could sense that economic crime was going to be on the rise because of technology and everything else," Storey said. He cited his creation of the economic crimes unit, collaboration with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Communities Against Senior Exploitation program as a good start.

Storey, a Republican, was elected DA for Jefferson and Gilpin counties in November 2004. He has been a prosecutor for 20 years, 17 of those in the 1st Judicial District (Jeffco and Gilpin counties) and three years in El Paso and Teller counties.

Storey is a Colorado native, with an undergraduate degree from the University of Denver and a law degree from the Gonzaga University School of Law. He worked for a short time with his family’s residential real estate construction and development business before going to law school.

"I'm working hard at my job, and in my spare time I'm doing my second job, which is campaigning," Storey said. "It will probably intensify now that the primary is over."

Storey said campaigning against someone who has so far been a low-profile candidate is challenging.

"It's difficult to campaign with somebody that is not as active, but I expect that she will become active, and I'm anxious to hear what she would do differently in this office," Storey said.

Peters said she wouldn't have run unless the Jeffco Democratic Party said it would handle the campaign so she could focus on learning about the DA's office and issues that are important to her. She realizes she faces a tough fight and regrets the slow start to the campaign, but said she wants to at least have an impact on the conversation about the Jeffco DA's office.

"I'm going to do things I think whether I win or lose could possibly help the situation, get people thinking about things," Peters said. Her approach to the campaign, to fund-raising, to taking on a whole new challenge can be summed up in three words: "It'll be interesting."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.