On Tuesday voters in Colorado’s 3rd and 11th Senate Districts staged a recall election and successfully removed two Democrats from state office.
It was an unprecedented event.
Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, are the first state lawmakers in Colorado history to be ousted from their posts in the Colorado General Assembly. Morse lost by just 343 votes Tuesday in a swing district in the Republican stronghold of Colorado Springs, but Giron lost by a bigger margin in a largely blue-collar district that favors Democrats.
Angered by new limits on ammunition magazines and expanded background checks, gun-rights activists tried to recall a total of four lawmakers but succeeded in launching efforts against only Morse and Giron. It was the first for state legislators since Colorado adopted the procedure in 1912.
Two Republicans who petitioned onto the recall ballots will take over for the expelled Democrats on Jan. 8, 2014, when the 69th General Assembly reconvenes for its second regular session. Pueblo Deputy Police Chief George Rivera will replace Giron, and former Colorado Springs Councilman Bernie Herpin will replace Morse.
On Wednesday Summit County elected officials responded to Tuesday night’s recalls.
“I am very disappointed because I have so much respect for both Sen. Giron and Sen. Morse and I am very proud of their service,” said Colorado House District 61 Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. “I think it is a huge loss to the state legislature to lose two great senators.”
Hamner does not see the recalls as a repudiation of the controversial gun control bills passed by the Democratic majority last session. She believes the majority of residents support those actions.
“I stand behind the laws that we passed and that were supported by the governor,” Hamner said. “I believe the overwhelming majority of Coloradans believe we have common-sense laws that makes it harder for criminals to get their hands on guns and I think that is a good thing.”
Despite losing two party colleagues, Hamner said she is looking forward to the upcoming session and continuing to focus on the issues — as Gov. John Hickenlooper noted after Tuesday’s recalls — that unite Coloradans, including creating jobs, strengthening the economy and improving the state’s public school system.
Dozens of elected county sheriffs have sued to block the gun laws. Summit County Sheriff John Minor, a Republican, was one of those sheriffs.
However, Minor believes that the contention runs far deeper than the gun control bills passed last session.
He said Wednesday the Democrats filed several bills beyond gun control that pit rural, Western Slope Coloradans against their predominantly metro, Front Range neighbors.
Although gun control and water rights contributed to the friction between rural and metro residents, Minor said Western Slope Coloradans still feel burned by Senate Bill 13-252, which ups renewable energy mandates on rural electric cooperatives from 10 to 20 percent by 2020 and was carried by Sen. Morse.
“They (rural Coloradans) are incensed by this; it is a bur under their saddle,” Minor said. “It’s not just a gun issue; there’s a whole host of issues affecting rural Colorado and that’s a point people are missing.”
But Minor, as well as Kim McGahey, vice chairman of the Summit County Republican Party, views Tuesday’s recall elections as a positive sign that the country’s representative system of government is working.
Neither Minor nor McGahey advocate either party holding the super majority, saying Republicans would have likely pushed their political agendas had the roles been reversed.
“The system was designed to be a deliberate body that works together to find compromises on the issues,” McGahey said. “I think this is proof that in representative government, when one party tries to ramrod their agenda and circumvent the collaborative process, they’re going to be held accountable. I think this is good for the people of Colorado and good for maintaining legislative balance.”
Despite the successful recalls, the Democrats still control the Senate by a slim 18 to 17 margin, as well as the House of Representatives, 37 to 28, and the governor’s office. However, to one senator, the recalls send a message.
“With the recalls going the way they did, legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, will take notice that ‘we the people’ still control the legislature,” said District 8 Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey. “We as legislators are elected to represent the people; they (Morse and Giron) didn’t and that’s why they were recalled.”