DENVER — Less than a week after the governor signed into law three gun-control bills, petitions are already circulating in the drives to recall two Democrats, Colorado Senate President John Morse and State Rep. Mike McLachlan.
The Colorado Secretary of State’s office approved petition language Monday for the Morse recall effort and Friday for the McLachlan recall.
Two more recall drives against state Sen. Evie Hudak (D-Lakewood) and state Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) are still in the planning stages.
“There are now 400+ petitions on the streets in Durango, Gunnison, Lake City, Pagosa Springs and Silverton!” said a Monday post on the Facebook page, Recall Mike McLachlan.
All the recall targets are Democrats, but so far the Colorado Republican Party has stayed out of the fray, leaving the organization to gun-rights and grassroots liberty groups.
“The grassroots support for this has been immense,” said Nick Andrasik, spokesman for the Basic Freedom Defense Fund in Grand Junction, which is coordinating the Morse and Hudak recalls.
The fund had also been helping organize the McLachlan recall along with the San Juan Freedom Defense Committee in Durango, but the groups announced Monday that they had split. Morse represents District 11 in Colorado Springs, while McLachlan’s District 59 is based in Durango.
Andrasik said Colorado is on the cutting edge of a political backlash against the state and national movement to enact tougher gun-control laws in the wake of two mass shootings in 2012.
“This isn’t just about Colorado–the momentum against these gun-control measures is nationwide,” said Andrasik. “Colorado is really the starting point for this. We’re the main stage in the national debate.”
Organizers say they need 7,178 validated signatures to put a Morse recall on the ballot, and 10,587 for a McLachlan recall. All the signatures must be from within the legislators’ districts, and petitions must be submitted within 60 days of receiving approval.
The governor is charged with selecting a date for a special election after the signatures have been validated, but may put off the vote until Nov. 5, the date of the next regularly scheduled election, if the petitions are approved within 90 days of the election.
Andrasik said his group is hoping to have signatures validated in time for a vote in August or September.
So far there has been little comment by Democrats targeted by the recall efforts. Morse told KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs that his support for the gun-control package was worth any political price he may pay.
“That’s why politicians around the country don’t want to stand up for this issue, but this is a political hill in my view that’s worth dying for so that we can make sure others don’t die literally at the point of a gun,” Morse said.
Political insiders watching the recall effort unfold had a piece of advice for organizers: Don’t overshoot.
Former Senate President John Andrews said the recall groups may want to “narrow the focus and try to take just two scalps,” preferably McLachlan and Hudak, whom he identified as the most vulnerable lawmakers.
“If Coloradans can recall at least one state senator and one state rep over their unrepresentative and arguably unconstitutional gun control votes, it will be the most important grassroots message since Californians recalled Gov. Gray Davis [in 2003],” said the Republican Andrews in an email.
Organizers should also bear in mind that recalls can be politically risky, said former Colorado Republican Party head Dick Wadhams.
“This is the problem with recalls: If they fail, they actually strengthen the incumbent politically,” said Wadhams. “This is pretty high-stakes stuff we’re talking about. Short of malfeasance or corruption in office, I think it’s smart to wait until the next election.”
He noted that in 2014, Morse would be term-limited and McLachlan is up for reelection. At the same time, Wadhams acknowledged that frustration and anger with the legislature over gun control may never be higher.
“I will say that the gun-control issue is very hot right, and these recalls should be able to take advantage of the political climate,” said Wadhams. “The intensity factor will work in favor of the recall groups.”
That’s why it’s important to act now, said Andrasik. “I think it’s more dangerous to wait until the next election,” he said.