Two southern Colorado state senators out after historic recall

Sept. 16, 2013

Dezarae Yoder
[email protected]

Recall voters in Colorado’s 11th Congressional District delivered a message to state Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) last week, establishing him as the first senator to be recalled in Colorado history.

Conceding soon after 9 p.m. Sept.10, Morse stated, “The highest rank in a democracy is citizen, not senate president.”

Morse went on to say he had “no regrets” over passing the legislation that helped spur the recall.

Morse lost by a little more than 2 percentage points while neighboring Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo (D), who was also recalled, lost by a margin of 12.

Each recall campaign was originally initiated by grassroots individuals disturbed by what they perceived as a lack of listening to constituents by their legislatures.

“Their constituents were saying, ‘No, don’t run this legislation through the senate,'” said Nev Haynes, recruiting director of the College Republicans at UCCS. “They flagrantly ignored their constituency.”

“People we elect into office … They work for us,” added Haynes. “Above all, [legislatures] need to be accountable to the constituents, and Mr. Morse failed to do so.”

Robert Harris, one of the three men who filed the petition to recall Morse, was motivated by similar concerns.

“It is about much more than guns … Morse does not listen to his constituents,” Harris posted on the Colorado Springs Independent’s website earlier this month.

Christy Le Lait, Morse’s campaign manager and executive director of the El Paso County Democratic Party, disagreed. “Actually, they just made it up,” she said.

“Our state senator received over 3,000 emails when they were talking about the gun safety bills,” added Le Lait. “Under 500 [were] from his district. He was inundated with emails from across the state and across the country.”

She added that 13 percent of those registered District 11 voted. “[This] is what I consider an incredibly expensive hissy fit. Or temper tantrum, I guess that’s a nicer way.”

“This entire episode just from the county taxpayer standpoint cost over $250,000,” Le Lait remarked.

“I’m betting by the time it’s all said and done it’s over $300,000 … incredibly expensive … That’s what we have elections for.”

Morse and Giron’s districts are largely Democratic voters. In 2012, Obama carried both districts.

“That district was drawn to try and elect a Democrat … it was still close,” said Josh Dunn, political science professor at UCCS.

“We will see increased use of the recall,” said Dunn, though mentioned that “it’s costly and timely, and we have term limits.”

“A lot of people will be leaving office soon anyway. Because of this recall, representatives and senators and governors are going to pay closer attention to their constituents.”

Voter turnout, said Kayla Strecher, vice president of the UCCS Young Democrats, was the large issue.

Strecher said about the recall, “It sets a precedent that anywhere in Colorado if anyone wants to get someone out of office, they can just sign a petition and we’ll be using tax dollars all over the state of Colorado all the time, basically.”

Strecher said she was “disappointed” more didn’t vote, but said she wasn’t surprised. “Someone who gets upset about something … those are the people who are going to turn out, not the other way.”

Of those registered, about 29 percent turned out to vote in the elections.

“Motivating Republicans in El Paso County isn’t the easiest job,” said David Stoffey, a member of the College Republicans at UCCS and the El Paso County Republican Party.

“We focused on the unaffiliated voters and the Independents. We put out 20,000 phone calls over a 10-day period.”

Contributions came in from multiple sources. The donations to both sides of the issue ran upward of $3 million, the majority coming from those who opposed the recall.

Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad of Los Angeles donated $250,000 toward warding off both recalls.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, gave $350,000 of his own money to the Morse and Giron campaigns.

Previously, Bloomberg has spent similarly in Chicago, donating $350,000 to fellow Democrat Robin Kelly, a proponent for stricter gun legislation.

According to Paul Revere, a proponent of both recalls, Republicans he had been in contact with weren’t interested in giving large donations to the recall cause.

“The money to get the recall, not the election, but the recall … It’s all been local people, no money from outside.”

The lobbying arm of the NRA, the Institute for Legal Action, said in a recent statement, “The people of Colorado Springs sent a clear message to the Senate leader that his primary job was to defend their rights and freedoms and that he is ultimately accountable to them.”

Money was also given by the NRA-ILA, a collective of less than $500,000.

Capturing these two senate seats is seen as important for the Republican Party in Colorado, and some want to capitalize on the win.

“I hope to see the sheriff’s lawsuit successful and have these laws seen as unconstitutional by our courts,” said Mike Gerhart, a member of the College Republicans at UCCS and state coordinator of Colorado Federated College Republicans.

“If not, then I hope in 2014 we’re able to replace Gov. Hickenlooper … [C]reate a pro-constitutional legislature, and see these laws repealed.”

Sheriffs in Colorado, from 54 of 64 counties, have joined in lawsuit against the laws as they view the legislation as unenforceable and unconstitutional.

“I’m hopeful … the citizens of Colorado … [will be] looking at their legislatures and demanding that they listen to their constituents,” continued Gerhart, “and also they keep what’s in the Constitution above the United States and Colorado.”

As for Morse’s Republican replacement, Bernie Herpin, and his new senate seat, Le Lait predicts it will be short-lived.

“The Republicans won’t hold onto the seat when it comes time for the regular election … I don’t think Bernie Herpin represents anyone’s values in this district. He’ll have one session; I’m willing to bet he doesn’t get anything accomplished, and then we’ll have another election,” she said.

“The legislation is not going anywhere,” continued Le Lait, “Eighty percent of Coloradans support this legislation… It’s just sad we’ve gotten to a point where this is how we deal with policy disputes, and I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.”