A nationwide push to build on the recall of two Colorado senators over gun laws could expose the GOP to the dangers of overreach.
In Colorado, the pushback against the state’s newly-passed gun laws continue after the historic recalling of two Democratic state senators on Tuesday. Two advocacy groups, the Basic Freedom Defense Fund and Pueblo Freedom and Rights, have circulated a questionnaire to state legislators asking if they would vote to repeal “Colorado’s unlawful new gun restrictions” in 2014 and if they would support a statewide initiative to make that happen.
“As you are likely aware, we recently succeeded in the first successful recall of not one, but two, State officials in Colorado history,” the petition read. “As we consider our next endeavors, we wish to know where every legislator stands on a repeal of Colorado’s unlawful new gun restrictions.”
“While we consider Tuesday’s election a significant victory, we realize that these egregious gun laws remain and we want to know where each and every Colorado state legislator stands on them,” said Jennifer Kerns, spokeswoman for the recall effort. “It is a new day in Colorado and constituents expect their legislators to represent the will of the people. No one is immune from the reach of the grassroots efforts which powered these two recall elections.”
The recalls of Colorado Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) — the first recalls in Colorado history — are being called a rebuke on the gun control debate. Republican state Sen. Greg Brophy, who has announced that he will run for governor in 2014, has told the Colorado Observer he plans to introduce a bill repealing the gun laws — which mandated universal background checks on all gun purchases and banned gun magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.
The new gun laws hit hard in Colorado, a formerly red state with a strong history of pro-gun legislation. With both a Democratic-led legislature and a Democratic governor, the state — which has a protracted history of gun violence with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and the July 2012 Aurora movie theater massacre — pushed through gun control legislation after similar bills were was filibustered in the U.S. Senate. Only New York was able to pass as tough a set of gun laws as Colorado achieved.
Victor Head, 28, a plumber who helped launch the recall effort in Pueblo, argued that there was plenty of impetus to get rid of Giron. Voters don’t like their gun rights “being messed with, regardless of party,” said Head.
“We’re committed to backing elected officials across the country who are willing to face these attacks because they agree with Americans about the need for better background checks,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) — whose Mayors Against illegal Guns inititative supported both Morse and Giron — in a statement.
A Quinnipiac University poll last month showed Colorado voters were unhappy with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s (D) position on guns and his decision to halt a death row inmate’s execution. While it is unclear what, exactly, the Colorado recall will mean — Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called it an “anomaly” and Seattle-based political consultant Christian Sinderman called it an “unfortunate reality … that the NRA bullying tactics can still work” — it can be argued that a full recall of the Colorado gun laws may amount to overreach.
The first indication of the overreach comes from Giron and Morse’s voting results. It’s well known in political science that the more people vote, the more people vote for Democrats. In the Morse race, the race was settled by only 333 votes out of the 17,845 votes cast. Morse’s district polls 34 percent Democrat to 38 percent unaffiliated. With recalls traditionally drawing fewer voters to the polls than regular elections, recalls almost certainly tend toward the Republican candidate if voting numbers stay low.
“Our turnout is well below what we expected,” said Morse, while speaking to the press at his election night watch party. “Certainly low turnout is worse for me than high turnout.”
There are 69,481 registered active voters in Morse’s district.
For Giron, her political fate was sealed before the recall. Giron was already at odds with her constituents for her support of Senate Bill 252, which required energy cooperatives to increase their use of renewable energy from 10 to 20 percent of production. Many in her community felt that the new infrastructure required to do this would raise electricity bills in an already struggling community. In Pueblo, there was an underlying sentiment that Giron was a career politician — focused on promoting the needs of the state Democrats over responding to the local opinion. A common impression of her was that she would listen politely to what the local voters had to say to her, nod her head in agreement and head off to do something different.
“She’s been way off base in a lot of issues,” said Jared Davis, a Pueblo voter, to the Denver Post. “If I don’t listen to my boss and do what he wants, I’ll get fired. She should be held to the same standard.” In Pueblo, at least one political action group campaigned against Giron during the lead-up to the recall election for her energy stance and not on gun rights.
One-fifth of Giron’s recall petition signatures came from Democrats, and Democrats voted in significant numbers to oust Giron. “Guns isn’t the only issue, but it was the final straw,” said Jim Elson, Jr., former president of AFSCME 123 and a self-identified Democrat.
None of this, however, detracts from the fact that a grassroots effort removed two established politicians from office. Recalls are difficult to pull off. California’s current Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has had eight recall initiatives against him. Part of it is that recalls have an intentionally high set of standards that must be met, but the other part of it has to do with the fact that recalls deal with voter anger — and that can be fleeting.
Despite this, recalls are becoming more common. “We’ve seen towns adopting amendments to install recall elections. We know it’s happening on the state level, definitely. So the recall has really grown,” said Joshua Spivak, a senior research associate at Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College. “It’s easier to collect signatures and target likely voters because there’s now an industry that collects signatures for [voter] initiatives. And you use the Internet and the news media to get the word out — get people into your issue — and for fundraising.”
The most telling part of the narrative, however, lies in the fact that neither the state Republicans nor the national Republicans came out in support of the recalls. This is for a good reason: many in the Republican Party now feel that the party’s past and current behavior has endangered their once-bulletproof control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
History would suggest that the Republicans have little to worry about in 2014. The second mid-term of a two-term president traditionally goes against the sitting president’s party, and with President Obama’s sagging popularity numbers, the Republicans should feel confident running against an unpopular administration.
However, many Republicans are looking back at one particular second mid-term election of a two-term Democratic president — 1998’s. The Clinton White House was engulfed in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, impeachment was looming and House Republicans, running against an embattled White House, felt they were assured to pick up the 20 seats they were forecasted to win.
They ended up losing five. They kept control of the House, but the margin became so small that the whole of the House Republicans had to be behind every bill to get it through.
In 2006, it was expected that the Republicans would lose, per the established pattern. However, the Republicans played to win. “The whole focus was on attacking Democrats,” recalled a Republican strategist to the Washington Examiner. “There was the belief that the districts were structurally Republican, Bush had carried a number of them, and we had a financial advantage.”
The Republicans lost 30 seats in 2006 and with them, control of the House. In both 1998 and 2006, the Republican strategy was to push back against and attack the Democrats. That strategy rarely works, and with the Republican track record of little or nothing agenda-wise and perceived roadblocking in the House, insiders in the Republican Party are starting to fear a major backlash that could cost them the House, despite the party’s gerrymandering efforts to form “safe” Republican-friendly districts.
There is a growing sentiment that the Republicans are destroying their brand with a never-ending series of “stunts” — such as threatening to shut down the government unless the Affordable Care Act is repealed, threatening to force the country to cease meeting its debt obligations unless social welfare spending is cut, calling for African-American votes even as state Republicans are actively pursuing voting restrictions and similarly calling for Latino votes while stalling on immigration reform.
“It is almost impossible to find an establishment Republican in town who’s not downright morose about the 2013 that has been and is about to be. Most dance around it in public, but they see this year as a disaster in the making, even if most elected Republicans don’t know it or admit it,” Politico wrote. “Elite Republican strategists and donors tell us they are increasingly worried the past nine months make 2016 look very bleak — unless elected GOP officials in Washington change course, and fast.”