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Gun Debate Continues As Colorado Senate Recalls Loom

Colorado State Senate

On Sept. 10, voters in Colorado Springs and Pueblo will decide whether two Democratic state senators, John Morse and Angela Giron, should keep their jobs. Both sides of the gun debate in Colorado are pouring a lot of resources into the historic recall elections.

“What you saw from the people is the people are rising up to take back their state and hold those elected officials accountable,” said Jennifer Kerns, the spokeswoman for the recall campaign against Morse. “And people really felt they weren’t being listened to.”

Republicans accused Democrats – who control the legislature – of being influenced by out of state sources when they passed laws requiring universal background checks and limiting high capacity magazines to 15 rounds. It’s a charge Democrats deny, but outside money is clearly influencing the recall campaign.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $350,000 to groups fighting the recall. The National Rifle Association has donated roughly $100,000 to support the cause.

"I think they are examples of the general political mood in the country."

“Colorado typically sees itself in even election years as a bell weather state in presidential and state politics and I think certainly with the gun issue being a big part of these recalls we’re seeing national attention again,” said Rich Coolidge, a spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

In many ways the recalls are merely symbolic. Even if the two lawmakers are ousted, Democrats would still hold a one seat majority in the state Senate. If they’re not voted out, Senator Morse is term limited next year and Senator Giron is up for re-election.

Giron says she’s confident she won’t be removed, adding that the whole thing has been unnecessary.

“It is the most costly election our county has ever seen,” said Giron. “This is precedent setting.”

Senator Morse calls it an abuse of the recall process.

“Most people believe recalls should be used for people who need to be removed because of character flaws, or because of criminal activity or unethical,” said Morse. “Not because they disagree with the way they voted. That’s democracy and that’s what elections are for.”

Morse represents a swing district that’s evenly divided among Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliated voters. On most days he’s out trying to mobilize his base. He says what worries him the most is voter confusion.

State law requires every voter to receive a mail in ballot, but a libertarian candidate sued saying he didn’t have enough time to collect signatures to potentially run in the race. The court gave him extra time, which meant ballots couldn’t be printed and mailed by Election Day. Now voters like June Theodore will need to go to a polling place.

“I’m 87 years old, but I don’t like to go to the polls. I do believe in voting. That’s one of the luxuries being an American that I want to take advantage of,” said Theodore.

While both sides of the gun debate are fired up, some see it as a chance for Republicans to grab back some power.

“I think they are examples of the general political mood in the country,” said Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer. “There’s a lot of division and it seems to be growing. There have been a lot of intense debates on the gun issue all over the country.”

The Recall Morse campaign says stricter gun laws violate the second amendment, don’t protect the public, and disarm law-abiding citizens. Spokeswoman Jennifer Kerns says recall supporters want to send a message to other states and lawmakers.

“They know now that the people are watching them, watching what they do,” said Kerns. “Watching the votes, and they’re watching the process.”

The gun issue spurred the recalls, but the elections themselves have become lightening rods for a host of other hot button topics from education to renewable energy.

Governor John Hickenlooper recently weighed in saying the recalls are hurting Democracy. He also blamed recall supporters for trying to intimidate and punish lawmakers who took a bold stance to protect public safety.

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