Two Democratic State Senators Latest Targets Of Recall Effort

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The five newly elected women, all Democrats, who helped their party regain control of the Senate. From left: Jessie Danielson holding daughter Isabelle Beth Kabza, Kerry Donovan,  Brittany Pettersen, Tammy Story and Faith Winter. Pettersen is the target of a recall effort.

The Colorado Secretary of State has cleared the way for recall campaigns to start gathering signatures against Democratic Senators Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood and Pete Lee of Colorado Springs. 

The groups have until September 10 to turn in 18,376 valid signatures from Pettersen's district, and 11,304 from Lee's. The signature amount is based on how many voters participated in the November 2018 election in each district, and more people voted in Pettersen's senate race.

Both recall campaigns cite many of the same new laws as reasons to recall Lee and Pettersen: measures to tie Colorado's electoral college votes to the national popular vote, allow judges to temporarily take guns from people deemed dangerous, revise Colorado's sex education curriculum, and an overhaul of oil and gas regulations. All of those polices are also cited by groups working to recall Governor Polis.

The lead organizer of the Pettersen recall campaign, Nancy Pallozzi, also highlighted the Senator's support for a safe injection site in Denver as one reason for the effort, although a bill to allow one was never introduced.

Pettersen has long been active in shaping the state's response to the opioid crisis and has spoken frequently about how her mother's drug addiction hurt their family.

Pallozzi is also concerned that Pettersen cast a committee vote in favor of a bill to change the process for enrolling vaccinated children in school. That measure never made it to the full Senate, going down in the final days of session.

Scott David Fisher, who filed the paperwork for the Lee recall, points to Lee's sponsorship of a bill to, as the recall language describes it, "create a paid family and medical leave program to be funded by a mandatory tax on businesses and employees, disingenuously referring to it as a “fee” instead of a tax." However Lee wasn't the main sponsor of that measure and raised concerns about how it would be funded. In the end, he was instrumental in helping put the brakes on the policy, by merely committing the state to studying the idea, instead of starting on the road to implementing it.

Both Lee and Pettersen issued statements blasting the recall efforts.

"This recall is little more than a brazen attempt by a few radical individuals to undo an election held less than a year ago," said Senator Pete Lee. "I was elected by a strong majority of voters in District 11 from across the political divide because I focus on solving real problems that impact peoples' lives. We will defeat this effort because the people in my district know that I put their interests first."

Lee was first elected to the state House in 2010. He won his seat in the Senate last November with 62 percent of the vote. District 11, which he represents, includes the west side of Colorado Springs and the near town of Manitou Springs.

Pettersen is also new to the state Senate, after serving six years in the state house. Her Jefferson County Senate district was one of five considered competitive in the last election. She ended up winning by 16 points.

"Extremists are trying to overturn the will of the voters by launching a misguided and unjustified recall against me," said Brittany Pettersen. "I ran and won last election campaigning on the issues I championed last legislative session. I am proud of my record working on behalf of our community, and I firmly believe that voters will see through this cynical ploy." 

It's the latest in what's becoming a wave of potential recalls this year. Earlier this summer Republicans abandoned an effort to recall Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan over the red flag gun law. And a recall campaign against Democratic Rep. Rochelle Galindo of Greeley was gaining traction but ended when she resigned from office in the wake of allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with a former campaign staffer.

Petitioners are currently gathering signatures to try to oust Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.