DENVER—Six months ago, Bernie Herpin assumed his best political days were behind him. He had lost his reelection bid for Colorado Springs city council and he was approaching his 70th birthday.
“I just figured I was done with politics,” said Herpin.
It turns out he was wrong. On Thursday, Republicans Herpin and George Rivera were sworn in as the newest members of the Colorado state Senate, replacing the two Democrats ousted in last month’s historic recall elections.
“My good friend Jenna said, ‘Don’t get emotional,’” said Rivera in his heartfelt floor remarks after the swearing-in by Chief Justice Michael Bender. “I can’t help it.”
The ceremony, conducted before a standing-room-only crowd in the state Senate gallery, capped a whirlwind turn of events that nobody could have seen coming, including the two Republicans.
The Democratic state legislature’s passage of three gun-control bills in March triggered a populist backlash that led to the recalls of Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and state Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo).
Rivera, a retired Pueblo deputy police chief, said he had planned to challenge Giron in November 2014, but his timetable kicked into overdrive when Pueblo Freedom and Rights began collecting signatures in April to place her on the recall ballot.
The Pueblo recall was seen as a longshot, but Rivera said he never doubted that it would succeed.
“We were confident the recall was going to be successful all the way through,” said Rivera. “It was really my wife Kathryn. She kept saying, ‘This is going to happen.’”
Pro-Democrat groups outspent the recallers by at least 6 to 1, which resulted in a few tense moments for the GOP campaigns.
“When all the outside money started pouring in, we started to get pretty nervous,” said Herpin. “But we were always cautiously optimistic.”
The final election tallies from the Secretary of State’s office show that Rivera won with 99 percent of the vote, with a Democratic write-in candidate taking less than 1 percent. Giron lost her bid to remain in office by a margin of 56 to 44 percent.
Herpin won with nearly 98 percent of the vote, while a Libertarian write-in candidate received less than 3 percent. Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) lost the recall election by a margin of 51 to 49 percent.
The only negative note Thursday was sounded by Morse, who issued a statement calling Herpin a “pawn.”
“Bernie Herpin was used as a pawn in an election where almost 80 percent of voters did not even participate and only 11 percent of the district elected him,” said Morse. “Make no mistake about it–he was elected in a myopic recall where he ran on only one issue. Senate District 11 has dynamic needs and is not defined by one issue.”
Morse added he leaves office with “no regrets.” Giron said in a statement that she also stands by her votes in favor of the gun-control bills and plans to resume her work as a “citizen advocate.”
“I’m leaving, not on my own terms, but with my integrity intact and with the sure and certain knowledge that Colorado and Pueblo are safer with these modest gun safety laws,” she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Herpin and Rivera say they’re preparing for the 2014 legislative session, which starts in January. Both will also face reelection in November 2014.
For Herpin, that April loss in the local Colorado Springs election now looks incredibly savvy.
“If I hadn’t lost that race, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Herpin with a laugh. “I liked serving in local office. I never really considered running for the legislature before this. I’m just so honored to have this opportunity.”