DENVER–When Ann DiFiore received a phone call Saturday from someone asking her to withdraw her signature from the petition to recall Senate President John Morse, she says she gave them a two-word reply.
“I said, ‘No way!’” said DiFiore. “The way I look at it, he didn’t listen to the people of his district–he listened to other people, and he deserves to go.”
DiFiore is one of many Colorado Springs residents coming under pressure to remove their names from the recall petitions by what appears to be a telemarketing firm. In her case, she said the caller, a young woman, told her that there was a backlash against the recall effort.
“She told me there are a lot of people who have changed their mind about signing the petition because they’ve gotten new information, like how he can’t run for reelection and it’s a waste of money,” said DiFiore. “I thought it was mind-boggling because I’ve signed petitions before, and nobody has ever asked me if I wanted to take my name off.”
The calls represent the latest salvo in the battle over the Morse recall, launched in reaction to the Colorado Springs Democrat’s support for gun-control measures during the 2013 legislative session.
The pro-Morse campaign filed a protest last week against the petitions after the Secretary of State’s office cleared more than 10,000 signatures, about 3,000 more than needed to force a recall election.
At the same time, the campaign, A Whole Lot of People for John Morse, contends that people were fooled into supporting the recall.
“Confirmed reports from the field indicate that a great amount of signees were misled in their reason for signing,” said a statement released Sunday on the group’s website. “This is not surprising given the recall’s tactics of ‘pay per signature’ which encourages voter intimidation and misinformation in order for collectors to receive pay.”
A Twitter message posted Sunday by All For Morse says that, “Hundreds ask us to remove their name from recall petitions after being tricked into signing #shadytactics.”
Recall organizer Paul Paradis, who says he’s heard from dozens of signers alarmed by the calls, chalked up the effort to a last desperate attempt by Morse to avoid being removed from office.
“They’re looking for anything they can find to create a legal situation,” said Paradis, who owns Paradise Sales in Colorado Springs. “They’re going to create hell or havoc any way they can. I think if people took the time to sign the petitions, they’re not going to change their minds now.”
The El Paso Freedom Defense Committee, which is running the recall along with the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, accused Morse’s group of “harassing those willing to sign a petition against someone who refuses to listen to them in order to suppress their voice.”
“As emails continue to stream in about paid solicitors calling or going door to door to harass those who signed the petition, those same folks are standing tall,” said the Facebook post. “Morse’s Chicago-like thug tactics are once again backfiring because the political antics from Chicago and DC do not work on Colorado citizens. Everyone we have spoken to who has been contacted by Morse’s paid harassment team is even more dedicated to voting and ensuring he is recalled.”
Signers report that the calls are originating from a phone line with a Colorado Springs 719 area code. Several signers said they tried to call the number back, but received a fax line.
“It sounded like there were a lot of people in the background doing the same thing,” said James Downing of Colorado Springs, who said he received a call Saturday. “I was really upset–I said, ‘Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who are against gun rights.’”
Bernie Herpin, a former Colorado Springs city councilman who has registered to run for the Senate seat in the event of a recall, released a statement Saturday calling on Morse to “stop the intimidation of his constituents and embrace the democratic process.”
Herpin said at least two callers have admitted that they were being paid to contact Morse constituents, adding that, “Somebody’s putting money behind it–those people are being paid.”
Whatever they’re earning, it may not be enough, given the outraged reaction of some petition-signers.
“After trying to convince me to change my mind about signing the John Morse recall petition, I asked if they were being paid by the Morse campaign,” said Ron Holladay of Colorado Springs in a statement. “They refused to answer the question and hung up.”