State Rep. Tom Sullivan listens on the Colorado House floor as supporters and opponents speak about HB 1177, the Red Flag bill, on March 4, 2019. Sullivan, a freshman lawmaker, campaigned for office in part to enact tougher gun control laws after his son Alex was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting. He was a leading sponsor of the bill.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

National Democrats are getting involved in the effort to help Democratic state Rep. Tom Sullivan survive a recall challenge that threatens to remove him from office.

The freshman lawmaker from Centennial was the main sponsor this year of the “red flag” gun bill. It allows courts to temporarily remove firearms from people considered a danger to themselves or others. The law will go into effect in 2020. Critics say it is a broad overreach, and violates the Second Amendment, and it’s one of the reasons they want to remove him from office.

“I know there's a lot of problems with it,” said Kristi Burton Brown. She is the vice chair of the Colorado Republican Party, lives in Sullivan’s district and initiated the recall against him. “He certainly did campaign on that general policy, but a lot of the particulars that are in that bill violate the privacy of everyday citizens in Colorado. Those details were not campaigned on.”

When Sullivan successfully unseated former Republican state Rep. Cole Wist in 2018, he came into the race with a compelling personal story. His son Alex was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting and passing stricter gun laws was a top priority.

“Can I possibly become more determined than I was? Yes. I can,” Sullivan said of the recall. “I’m going to walk harder and talk louder if that’s what I have to do.”

Six years ago was the last time state lawmakers were recalled from office — also in the wake of Democrats passing gun control measures. While some Republicans hope history repeats itself, Democrats are determined to avoid that fate.

“When the gun industry attacks one of our own, it’s important for us to respond in kind and demonstrate that our movement to save lives is just as powerful as they are,” wrote Democratic U.S Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut in a fundraising email he sent on Sullivan’s behalf. Murphy asked people to split a $35 donation between Sullivan’s recall effort and his own work to change gun laws.

“The gun lobby is trying to force a recall election to try to defeat Tom and the other Democrats who sponsored the bill. If our side wins, it’s a devastating blow to an already reeling gun lobby. And so Tom needs our help right now to defeat this recall effort.”

The email Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy sent to his supporters that rallied behind Tom Sullivan's cause.

Photo Illustration by Jim Hill

The money will go to the political action committee Our Colorado Way of Life, which is working to help Sullivan.

"We are extremely appreciative of Sen. Murphy and any other allies who are stepping up to help Rep. Sullivan fight off gun-extremists and their attempt to undermine the will of the voters in Colorado,” said Matthew McGovern, Our Colorado Way of Life spokesman.

Sullivan said Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren personally called him and said she was outraged by what was happening. Other Democrats have told him they think the recall will be unsuccessful and could actually bolster his name identification and help him politically.

But for Sullivan, he says a potential recall has been draining and stressful and kept him up at night thinking about all the work he has yet to do.

“I'm not in this to get my name in the paper, have a phone full of contacts and all of that. You just, you got to do the work,” he said.  

And while top state GOP leaders say they want the party to be more hands-on with recalls and believe it can be a good way to connect with voters, other Republicans worry the effort could be a waste of resources and detract from the 2020 presidential election and U.S. Senate race. Republican state Rep. Lois Landgraf of Colorado Springs has formed a group to try to recruit more moderate GOP candidates. She said this traditionally Republican seat should be in play next year but worries if Sullivan gets through the recall.

“I think that seat is lost to us for a long time," Landgraf said.

Backers of the recall have until mid-July to gather 10,035 signatures to put the question before voters in House District 37. Even if Sullivan were to be recalled, it would still leave Democrats with a wide majority in the House of Representatives.