Two More Elected Dems Can Breathe Easy As The Summer Of The Recall Has Turned Into The Fall Of Disappointment For Some On The Right

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.

Recall efforts against Democratic state Sens. Pete Lee of Colorado Springs and Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood are over. 

Supporters of the efforts announced Tuesday that they will not submit signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office for approval. It’s the latest sign that the unprecedented number of recall efforts launched against Democratic state politicians this year is not gaining traction. 

“Recall Et All is suspending the recall campaigns for Senators Pete Lee (SD11) and Brittany Pettersen (SD22),” organizers said in a statement. “We are confident in the success of our future efforts to recall both of these elected officials. In the meantime, we will continue to educate the public regarding the party-line politics being played in both districts that completely undermine the will of the people.” 

Colorado has seen six recall efforts in recent months led by those on the right who fear that Democratic state lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis, who now control all the levers of state government, are moving Colorado too far to the left. The biggest concerns have been around joining a national popular vote compact, gun control and oil and gas development.

Of those six campaigns, three have now failed to gather the needed number of signatures: those against Lee, Pettersen and Polis. A recall effort focused on Rep. Tom Sullivan was pulled early in the process and one targeting Rep. Rochelle Galindo of Greeley ended after she resigned over a police investigation. The final outstanding campaign, against state Senate President Leroy Garcia, has until October to turn in signatures.  

“It’s hardly a surprise that these bogus recalls failed to find support beyond the grifters, extremists and sore losers who hatched the ploys in the first place,” said Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for Democracy First Colorado. “These scams were designed to raise money and collect data on voters in competitive districts, and all Coloradans — regardless of political affiliation — should be disgusted by the abuse of the recall process.”

Recalls used to be a rarity in Colorado, but have gained new attention as a political tactic. Voters did recall two Democratic state senators from office in 2013 over the passage of universal background checks and a high capacity magazine ban.   

When news broke of his recall being pulled, Lee thanked volunteers in his district who he said urged voters not to sign the recall petitions. 

“My hope is that we reaffirm our faith in the electoral process, respect the will of the voters, and leave extraordinary measures for extraordinary circumstances. Let's renew our commitment to working together on policies that benefit the people of Colorado,” Lee said. “For my part, I will continue to focus on bipartisan solutions to our most pressing problems.”

Colorado is among eleven states in the country that allows state officials to be recalled for political reasons.

Using recalls as a political tool has been divisive in conservative circles. Leaders in the state GOP have at times endorsed the process, with party chair Ken Buck saying they would teach Democrats “how to spell recall.” Supporters of recalls say it can help with fundraising and is a way to speak to voters and keep them interested and voting before 2020. Organizers have also said it’s the only way they can make their voices heard.

Others have argued it’s a waste of resources and detracts from important races next year, like trying to reelect Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. And now one Republican lawmaker has announced he wants to see the state reform its recall election laws. 

“As a conservative, I believe in small government and I believe in the right to citizen recalls,” said Republican Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial. “But it is also our duty to protect Coloradans’ right to ethical elections and functional government, and the current process invites disruption.” 

The effort has bipartisan support. Democratic Rep. Sullivan, also of Centennial, pledged to work on a policy when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January. 

“During my campaign, I promised I’d pass a red flag law in Colorado to help prevent gun violence,” said Sullivan. “I kept my promise, but because of this work, Republicans tried to recall me from office and rob my constituents of their voice. They failed, but I’ve now seen first-hand how well-funded special interests can abuse our recall process and harm our democracy.”

A significant change to the recall process would require both constitutional and statutory measures. Any constitutional change would need a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber to pass and be referred to voters, meaning healthy bipartisan support to even make the ballot. It’s not clear how many Republicans would sign on to a major state constitutional change. 

“Colorado’s historical reluctance to take power away from the voters is both valid and justified,” said Sage Naumann, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans. “Our senators look forward to seeing Senator Tate’s proposal and finding a balance that both preserves the rights of the people while ensuring good governance.”