Colorado Springs has been the recent subject of national attention and political focus surrounding the effort to recall local State Sen. John Morse over his support of gun control legislation.
Morse – who is the president of the Colorado Senate, the Democratic chief in the body, and one of two state legislators facing recall over gun control – will have to face voters on Sept. 10. His district includes Colorado College.
The gun control package, shepherded through the Senate by Morse, includes universal background checks for firearms purchases and a 15-round ammunition limit on magazines. It has been called the firmest restriction on guns passed in the country.
State Senator Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) also faces a recall for the gun control package. All in all, the New York Times reports, over $2 million – much of it out-of-state money – has been spent on the two recalls by both sides.
Many political commentators view the recall efforts, which are the first-ever successful attempts by voters wanting to oust Colorado legislators, as a proxy for the much larger national debate on government regulation of firearms. Already, out-of-state donors supporting both sides have begun marshaling their forces.
Backers and opponents of gun control hope to use the senators’ recalls to set an example nationally. If the two are recalled, opponents of gun control hope it will help prevent other politicians from passing similar laws. Supports of gun control hope that unsuccessful recall attempts will embolden would-be firearm restriction-supporting legislators across the country.
The Washington Post reported that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, billionaire and founder of the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has already donated $350,000 to oppose the effort. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), sometimes talked of as a possible contender in the 2016 presidential election, has thrown resources behind Giron.
On the other side, American for Prosperity, run by billionaire businessmen and conservative donors Charles and David Koch, has sent out mass mailings to residents. The National Rifle Association, one of the largest and most influential interest groups in the country, has given money and support to the recall.
Both sides have attempted to cash in on the outside money and influence.
Opponents of the recall say that outside groups such as the NRA are trying to intimidate politicians into not passing what supports frequently call “common-sense” gun control reforms.
“I’m guessing he’ll be retained – but recall elections are hard to predict,” said Tom Cronin, CC’s McHugh Professor of Leadership Studies who has written a book about Colorado politics and recently wrote an article for the Denver Post about the election.
Despite the influx of money, said Cronin, “It is hard to tell what impact this will have – because it is so late.” He added that he believed the recall is “inappropriate and unnecessary.”
Despite the apparent liberalism of the district, and higher campaign spending levels by pro-Morse groups, his success in the recall is not assured.
Several left-leaning groups have criticized him for his anti-legalization stance on marijuana.
While Morse’s district—with a population approaching 150,000—includes the eastern part of the generally conservative, anti-gun control portion of Colorado Springs, it also includes parts of the liberal Manitou Springs and CC. In the 2012 election, data shows that Pres. Barack Obama won Morse’s district with 59 percent of the vote.
Directly after the passage of Amendment 64, which legalized and allowed regulation of recreational marijuana in Colorado, Morse introduced legislation to overturn and limit this passage. The Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates legalization, named him the worst legislator in the country on the issue.
In addition to the tepid-at-best support of some liberals, Morse faces sheer demographic challenges. Democrats, trends show, are less likely to turnout to vote in non-presidential election years.
“Ground games to get out the vote for both sides is critical…[one] hundred or two pro-Morse votes could make the difference,” said Cronin.
They are also less likely to vote in person, opting instead to mail in their ballots. In 2012, for example, more than 75 percent of voters in Morse’s district submitted ballots by mail. Republican Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office has announced that, due to budget and time constraints, there will be no mail-in ballots for the recall, which could be problematic for Morse.
Under the State Constitution, there are several steps involved in a recall. The first is collecting enough signatures to place a candidate on the ballot for recall. Morse opponents needed to collect 7,178 signatures to begin recall process. They turned in over 16,048 on June 3 of this year, though some of those signatures have been contested by pro-Morse factions.
The next step in a recall is the actual recall decision. That is, voters will decide whether or not they would like to remove Morse from his position.
If that is successful, the third and final step is picking a successor. The only person on the ballot for that position is Republican Bernie Herpin, a former Colorado Springs City Councilman and longtime volunteer for the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Morse was first elected to the Senate in 2006 and was reelected in 2008. Before politics, he was the head of a Colorado non-profit, a policeman, and eventual chief of police in Fountain, Colo. His term ends in 2014 and he is not eligible for reelection, per the Colorado Constitution.
The recall efforts coincide with a push in some Northern Colorado counties to secede from the state over the gun control package. Several counties will vote to form the state “North Colorado” in the next few months. Creating that state would require the consent of the Colorado Legislature and Congress.
Morse spoke at a rally on campus Friday.
Ansel Carpenter, Copy Editor