State Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) addresses supporters. [Photo: Shanna Lewis]
By Ben Markus and Shanna Lewis
Gun rights groups scored a huge electoral victory Tuesday night, unseating two Colorado state Senators. Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo championed gun control legislation earlier this year. They’re now the first state lawmakers in Colorado history to be recalled, in an election that attracted national attention and money.
Morse’s race was extremely tight. Just over 50% of voters supported his recall. In his concession speech, he told supporters that when he first ran for his seat as a Democrat in a conservative district, he was sure he would lose, so he only wrote a concession speech.
“I get to give that speech after all,” Morse said, “but I can tell you, after seven years in the state Senate, it’s very different.”
He thanked supporters who knocked on doors and called voters. He also noted that, despite the night’s losses, Democrats still control the state House and the state Senate, albeit, by a much slimmer one-vote margin in his former chamber. He said he was also confident the gun control laws that were the subject of the recall would remain in place.
After the speech, Morse said his defeat shouldn’t deter other lawmakers from voting for gun control.
“Any other legislator in the state, in the country, ought to be proud if they get taken out after making their state safer from gun violence,” he said.
After the Aurora and Newtown shootings, Morse and his Democratic colleagues expanded background checks for gun purchases and put limits on ammo magazine sizes. Morse stands by his decisions on those bills.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Republicans relished their victory. Former Colorado Springs City Councilman Bernie Herpin won Morse’s seat, which he’ll hold for about sixteen months, until the next election.
“By your vote,” he told cheering supporters, “you have sent a loud and clear message that we’ll no longer tolerate elected officials who refuse to listen to their constituents and trample on our rights.”
Those are the issues that drove Timothy Knight, president of the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, to begin gathering signatures to force the recall election. He and his supporters were giddy after the win.
He says this wasn’t a Republican vs. Democrat battle, but a question of punishing lawmakers for overreaching.
“A lot of people say, ‘well, you went after a Democrat,’” Knight said. “If a Republican had done this, I would have done the same thing.”
Knight calls himself the “Godfather of the Recalls,” and he disagrees with Morse that the election won’t change anything. He says voters in these two districts sent a message that will make lawmakers “stop and think” before passing future bills.
He says now, his Basic Freedom Defense Fund needs to build on its successes. He says the group has already been approached to organize more recalls in Colorado.
Down in Pueblo, state Senator Angela Giron lost her seat with some 56% of the vote going against her. At her Election Night watch party, the crowd of about 200 people had thinned out by the time the final results came in around 10:30pm.
“We cannot shed tears about this,” said a perplexed Giron. “What we have to do is turn that into strength and commitment to this community, to this state, to this country.”
Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio was at Giron’s event. He echoed John Morse’s earlier comments when he said the results were disappointing but don’t mean a lot.
“They are fairly symbolic in that they don’t change the majority of the Democratic party in the state Senate,” he said, “and the laws that these groups objected to - gun safety measures - are still on the books, and they are going to remain on the books.”
About a mile away from Giron’s gathering, the man who will replace her, Republican George Rivera, was surrounded by celebrating supporters.
“I’m pretty amazed, to be honest with you,” he said. “I never saw myself in this position. I’ve never been a politician. Six months ago this would have been a fantasy.”
Rivera is a retired police officer. He says he got into the race because he believes it’s important to hold elected officials accountable.
The recalls attracted millions in campaign contributions. Donors ranged from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the NRA. Now, though, the excitement dies down, and two new state lawmakers must get down to business, learning their new jobs.