DENVER–Senate President John Morse vowed Monday to fight for his seat even as speculation swirled that he may step down before his name can be placed on a recall ballot.
If he does resign, that’s okay with recall organizer Rob Harris.
“If Morse is forced out, we win,” said Harris. “If Morse is recalled, we win. Anything that gets him out of office is a win for us.”
His group, the El Paso Freedom Defense Committee, gathered in excess of 16,000 signatures, more than twice as many as required to force a recall election. Boxes of petitions were submitted Monday to the Secretary of State’s office.
The office has 15 business days to validate the signatures, but a Morse resignation would stop the process in its tracks.
Rumors are circulating that Gov. John HIckenlooper may offer Morse a cabinet post in order to lure him from his seat, which would allow Democrats to appoint a successor and avoid the possibility of an embarrassing ballot loss.
Morse (D-Colorado Springs) insisted Monday that he won’t go down without a battle. His campaign, A Whole Lot of People for John Morse, is already planning to contest the petitions if the recall camp meets the threshold of 7,178 signatures.
Gun-rights advocates launched the recall effort in March after three gun-control bills were approved by the state legislature. Morse was active in supporting the measures, which were signed by the governor and take effect July 1.
“We’ve won the fight in the legislature and now if necessary we’ll win it again on the street,” Morse said Monday at a Colorado Springs press conference. “We can’t allow outside interest groups to tell us how to run our city, state and to some extent, our country.”
Morse would have 15 days after signatures are validated to file protests. His campaign has set up a “voter protection hotline” for people to call if they “felt intimidated into signing by petition collectors.”
“We’ll go through these signatures with a fine-toothed comb,” Morse told KDVR-TV in Denver. “And we’ll file some protests with the Secretary of State’s office because we know a lot of these signatures were gathered based on misinformation and lies.”
Harris dismissed the charge, countering that his circulators were inundated with people eager to sign and didn’t hesitate to turn away those who resided outside the district.
“Our numbers would have been much higher if we’d collected signatures from everyone who wanted to sign,” said Harris.
Despite his never-say-die tone, Morse acknowledged at the press conference that he has only about a year left before he’s term-limited. At least one Democrat, former state Rep. Mike Merrifield, has indicated he plans to run to succeed Morse, whose term expires in 2014.
Merrifield’s name has also been mentioned as a possible replacement for Morse if he resigns, but that move could also be risky for Democrats. Easing Morse out of office in order to avoid a recall fight could be seen as an admission that their gun-control bills were unpopular with voters, which could discourage similar efforts in other states.
“Our suspicion is that gun advocates and gun manufacturers nationwide do want to send a message,” said Morse. “‘If you think about gun-safety legislation, we’ll do the best we can to take you out. If we can take the Senate President out in Colorado, we can take you out.’ Again, they haven’t taken the Senate President out in Colorado. They’ve just turned in signatures. We’ve got a long way to go.”
If approved, a recall ballot would ask voters to choose between Morse and other candidates, who would need to petition to have their names placed on the ballot. The recall vote could be called as early as September or consolidated with the November election.
Harris said gun-rights supporters are prepared to resume their fight in 2014 if the Senate President abandons ship before a recall vote.
“If Morse resigns and Hickenlooper puts in, say, Merrifield, or someone else who’s anti-gun, we’ll just take the same ground game and do it in 2014,” said Harris. “We’ll make sure we have a representative, not a ruler, in Senate District 11.”